The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) held a conference call revealing a frantic final week of advocacy activity before Congress takes its holiday recess until the New Year.
The major part of that activity for home health agencies centered around the attempt to delay the impacts of Medicare “rebasing” cuts through an amendment to the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) fix – also known as the physician fix.
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered an amendment on behalf of home care that would delay the cuts for one full year and give the industry the chance to lobby CMS to change their methodology with more updated and accurate data. Unfortunately, part of the compromise of the short -term physician fix was that it was a “clean” bill, which means no outside amendments. According to NAHC, even the hospital industry had amendments that were proposed and then withdrawn because of that agreement between Democrats and Republicans.
The short-term SGR fix will last for three months and must be offset by $7 billion. The good news there is that none of the offset is coming from the home health industry. Some of the hit is being hit is being absorbed by cuts to Long Term Care Hospitals and Disproportionate Share Hospital rates, but copays and additional reductions for home care were avoided.
The light at the end of the tunnel comes from the fact that the Senate is working on a permanent SGR fix and the Stabenow amendment will still be in play for that effort. In addition, NAHC was successful in getting language from the FITT Act into the Senate’s proposal. The FITT Act essentially establishes a national pilot program for home-based telemonitoring provided by home health agencies. It will not be straight reimbursement, but is meant to be a shared savings approach where the providers and Medicare will share in any efficiencies gained. Moreover, if the program is successful, NAHC indicated that the program could be expanded by Medicare without going back to Congress for approval since it is a pilot and not a demonstration.
In terms of hospice care, NAHC also reported that another amendment would allow physician’s assistants to serve as the attending physician for hospice patients.
All of these wheels will be in motion in the New Year, but the main idea is that Democrats and Republicans compromised on a two-year deal that keeps the federal government running and it was done without implementing co-payments for home care. The 2% sequester cuts are extended for an additional two years, but those are not “new” cuts and are simply to make the budget scoring work. By the time the extended years are reached, the sequester could potentially be a thing of the past.
The Home Care Alliance thanks agencies for sending nearly 200 messages to the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation in two days. That education and advocacy will be critical as we move forward to fight rebasing in the New Year. Of course, further information will be provided as it becomes available.
Return to www.thinkhomecare.org.