Bipartisan lawmakers recently introduced new legislation, the Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022, to combat proposed cuts to home health services by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that would take effect in 2023.
Without action, the CMS plan would implement a 7.69% permanent payment reduction and additional $2 billion in “clawback cuts” for payments of critical home health services delivered to seniors and people with disabilities during the pandemic. This could result in as much as $18 billion in cuts to home healthcare providers over the next 10 years. This is unacceptable, especially as census data show the number of older adults continues to grow rapidly.
According to a report from the Administration of Aging, the number of adults aged 65 and older has increased by 14.4 million (36%) since 2009, compared to an increase of 3% for the under-65 population.
Additionally, the population of adults aged 85 and older is projected to increase by 118% in the next 20 years. As our senior population grows, we will see a corresponding increase in demand for services to help older adults maintain independence and dignity as they age. It is imperative our government not only passes this legislation to delay proposed cuts to home based care but also prioritizes expanding funding and access to care options to support these individuals and the organizations that serve them.
Cutting home health funding would devastate an industry that is working to rebuild amid an ongoing pandemic. Despite concerns many people had about feeling isolated during the height of COVID-19, nearly 80% of adults 50 and older report wanting to remain in their homes as they age. To do so, they need the support of care professionals who can help them remain safe and secure at home. However, home health — like the rest of the health care industry — has been severely impacted by the Great Resignation. Since the start of the pandemic, the health care industry has lost an estimated 20% of workers.
CMS’ proposed funding cuts would mean fewer resources to hire qualified health professionals and deliver quality home-based care. These costs would need to be reallocated or absorbed, which could mean consolidating home health operations, limiting availability of these services to record-setting numbers of older Americans, or moving more payment responsibility to private insurers and patients themselves.
The cost impact to the Medicare program could also be damaging. Discharge to home health, often a less expensive option than remaining in the hospital or transferring to another care facility, would be limited due to availability. Patients and families preferring to receive care at home would be forced to consider discharge to a higher cost Medicare program. At a time when cost of living is at its highest point since the 1980s, and wages and industry expenses have spiked, this action seems to undermine the rights of beneficiaries who rely on Medicare to provide affordable health coverage as they age.
The Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022 would delay and block proposed funding cuts to home health providers and allow policymakers more time to understand and implement an approach that both protects the interests of older Americans and supports growth of home health services, increasing availability and access to critical home-based health care services for a growing population.
At a time when the home health industry is projected to continuing growing at unprecedented rates, it would be a severe oversight to discount the care preferences of millions of aging Americans and cut critical funding to home-based health care programs. The Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022 deserves support to correct this misstep and protect the livelihoods of older Americans for years to come.
David Grams is CEO of Compassus, a leading national provider of home-based care services including home health, infusion therapy, palliative and hospice care.