An expert panel composed of Dexter Braff, Jennifer Sheets, Brent Korte, Susan Benoit and Zac Long
From left: Mike Dordick, Dexter Braff, Jennifer Sheets, Brent Korte, Susan Benoit and Zac Long discuss the proposed home health payment cut and the growth of Medicare Advantage. Credit: Nick Caito/NAHC

As the home care industry faces a hefty proposed home health rate cut, the situation may not be as dire as it seems, an expert panel offered at the National Association for Home Care & Hospice Financial Management Conference.

“It feels like a 7.0, but maybe it’s a 5.0,” said Frontpoint Health CEO Brent Korte, comparing the cuts to an earthquake.

Though providers may be put in a challenging spot, he said, strategies can be taken to make the best of the situation, he noted. 

According to Zac Long, CEO of Well Care Health, providers must prioritize responsible utilization management and smart allocation of clinical capacity.

“I don’t think that we can cost-cut through this,” he said. Rather, long-term investment in recruitment, retention and quality of care must be at the forefront of future decision-making. 

The panel called on agencies to innovate their recruitment and retention strategies. Healthcare is trending toward in-home services, but there must be staff available to do the work, said President and CEO of CenterWell Home Health Susan Benoit. Partnering with universities and working with faculty educators will be key to alleviating the workforce crisis, Benoit said. She advocated that professionals consider adjunct professorships to lead the charge in training the next generation of nurses.

Dexter Braff, founder and president of merger and acquisition advisory firm The Braff Group, stressed that retention of employees specifically can boost a home care agency’s overall value. If a provider can demonstrate better retention, it shows proof of predictable revenue and income. Retention, rather than recruitment or turnover rates, is a far better weathervane for a provider’s value, he said.

“It’s always been an area that buyers have looked at if people have the right data,” Braff said. Not all providers use the same method to determine turnover rates, he said, so retention is often a more provable measure of a company’s value.

At the same time, providers must be willing to try new things if they want to stay competitive and profitable in a changing market, the panelists stressed. Medicare Advantage now covers more than half of all Medicare beneficiaries. As such, it’s important to work with MA while finding better ways to manage costs, said Korte. Only accepting traditional Medicare patients, he said, “doesn’t sound like a sound strategy to me.”