For years, professionals in the home care and hospice industry have been working nonstop on behalf of pediatric patients, geriatric patients, disabled veterans, and anyone in need of home care, regardless of age or disability. This work and the challenges our patients face are largely invisible to most, unless you’re one of the families desperately relying on home care services. Our industry is proud to serve this incredibly diverse patient population and our workforce doesn’t show up every day for the accolades — we show up for the disabled child, the elderly patient, and the relieved caregivers who count on us to keep their loved one at home and make life a little easier.
Though we may be in the background of the health care landscape, our industry can no longer afford to be silent. Home care and hospice providers are facing rising inflation, healthcare worker-shortages, and increased fuel costs to travel from home to home, significantly impacting patient care and access to critical home care services. These issues are further compounded by the current COVID-19 public health emergency and recent devastating proposed reductions to the federal Medicare home health benefit.
Medicare cuts could send more seniors to nursing homes
Without action from our lawmakers, Medicare is poised to cut home care services by $1.33 billion in 2023 alone. Additional cuts of more than $2 billion in 2024 and the years beyond, reaching up to $18 billion over the next decade, will make access to home care impossible for many homebound patients in need. Without this funding, many vulnerable seniors who receive care through home care or hospice providers will be forced to receive their long-term care in nursing facilities, taking away the familiarity and comfort of being in their home with a consistent provider and costing substantially more than home care options.
On top of these proposed cuts, in Texas, the state legislature and Health and Human Services Commission dictate home care provider rates, which already lag drastically behind inflation costs and competitive market pay to attract and retain staff. Combined with this current state funding environment, cuts to Medicare would leave over 500,000 Texas families who rely on vital in-home health care services without a comfortable continued care option and will cost billions more.
According to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, keeping patients out of hospitals for preventable, manageable medical needs saves taxpayers $33.7 billion annually — further highlighting the need for additional care options. Cutting Medicare home care services for our rapidly growing senior population makes no sense, financial or otherwise, regardless of your political leaning.
Recently, Senator Stabenow, Senator Collins, Congresswoman Sewell, and Congressman Buchanan introduced the Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022, which would safeguard consistent payments to home health agencies under Medicare funding and ensure our at-risk patients and their families can count on their continued care. This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would play a critical part in maintaining home care for homebound patients and ensuring the industry can continue to provide these vital services.
Congressional action now would save tax dollars in long run
The Preserving Access to Home Health Act is an affordable, immediate, and short-term solution to maintain this crucial standard of care and continue serving patients across the country without non-emergency hospital intervention. While there still needs to be further federal attention and development of home health reimbursement, this legislation is an excellent first step to protecting this vital care option for our most vulnerable Americans.
Living with a disability and wanting the best possible care for your loved ones is not a political issue, and for those in dire need of consistent access to home care, this legislation is a band-aid in an increasingly difficult environment, while saving billions in unnecessary and lengthy hospital stays. To continue to ensure every American has the care and support they need, the home care and hospice industry is urging our Texas leaders in Washington to pass the bipartisan Preserving Access to Home Health Act and focus on innovative health care solutions on behalf of our patients who are not able to advocate for themselves.
Rachel Hammon is a registered nurse and Executive Director of the Texas Association of Home Care & Hospice in Austin.