A nurse puts on protective equipment before performing house call.

Post-acute care discharge instructions rebounded to pre-pandemic levels last year with home health agencies outperforming skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). 

According to Trella Health’s “Post Acute Care Industry Report”, the number of patients discharged into home health between the second quarter of 2020 and the third quarter of 2021 increased 2.5% to 24.1% of total inpatient discharges. Conversely, the number of patients released to SNFs declined 2.4% to 18.6% of total discharges. 

The report attributed the decline in SNF discharges to concerns that nursing homes were hotspots for COVID-19 transmissions and deaths. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report buttressed those concerns, linking SNFs to nearly a quarter of U.S. coronavirus deaths. 

“Further, stay-at-home orders likely emphasized the attractiveness of home health rather than skilled nursing care,” the report stated. 

Medicare Advantage’s impact on home health

The report also highlighted the impact Medicare Advantage plans could have on home healthcare in the future. MA plans comprised 42% of the Medicare beneficiary market last year and are expected to make up nearly 45% of the market this year. That represents a 65% increase in enrollment since 2016. Trella Health projects MA plans will make up half the market for Medicare plans by 2025. 

The report advised home health agencies to closely monitor the payer mix in their markets going forward, especially in rural areas. It explained that growth in MA plans will require home health agencies to negotiate contracts with payers in their regions.

“To effectively gain market share and attract admissions covered by MA plans, home health agencies must utilize data on MA penetration and plan size to effectively strategize in their market,” the report said.  

Medicare Advantage plans have been growing in popularity in part because of the supplemental benefits they offer seniors. Nearly a quarter of MA plans offer flexible benefits, including home care and transportation this year, according to ATI Advisory.