The Rundown – May 2023

State Recap

EOHHS Releases Proposed Chapter 257 Rates for Certain Elder Care Services

On Friday, Executive Office for Health and Human Services (EOHHS) released their proposed Chapter 257 Rates for Certain Elder Care Services. We are happy to report that EOHHS proposed increasing Enhanced Community Options Program (ECOP) Direct Services from $749.47 to $976.08 per client per month and Home Care Program Services Direct Services from $326.35 to $424.34 per client per month, which amounts to about a 30% increase to the base rate for both ECOP and Home Care Program Services.

While a 30% increase on the surface seems high, that percentage does not consider the temporary rate add-ons (EPTS, ARPA, and DALA appeal settlement) that agencies have become accustomed to. After accounting for all, the percent increase is closer to 7%. EOHHS still plans to meet their deadline of July 1st, 2023, to implement the new proposed rates.

EOHHS also announced that they will be holding a public hearing on the proposed rates on Friday, May 19, 2023, at 9:00am EST. HCA will be providing testimony at the hearing and encourage everyone to provide testimony as well. We will be sure to send around our draft testimony before and we are happy to help anyone with their testimony as well.

House Passes Budget Proposal

The House voted unanimously (156-0) to approve their $56.2 billion state budget for FY24, sending their spending plan to the Senate. The over $56 billion budget plan included significant increases in spending for education, childcare, environmental agencies, transportation, and hundreds of millions in tax relief. Not included in the Houses budget is the Enough Pay to Stay (EPTS) rate add-on. This didn’t come as a surprise since it was not included in their initial proposal and with new rates set to be released soon, we did not expect the house to include fully funding a rate add-on at this time.

Knowing that the House would not be inclined to fully fund the EPTS rate add-on at this time due to the rate review, HCA along with the EPTS coalition did submit an amendment to the house budget proposal that would fund a rate add on for 3 months or one quarter of FY24. We filed this language because we were concerned if EOHHS would meet the July 1st, 2023, deadline to promulgate new Chapter 257 rates, and if they didn’t, we wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be a massive rate cliff since the EPTS and ARPA rate add-ons expire on the same date. The amendment was not included in the final house budget but did garner some co-sponsors during the amendment process. The budget process will now shift to the Senate.

Tax Relief Package

The House also passed their $1.1 billion tax relief package a month after Governor Healey released her $742 million tax relief package. The Houses tax package includes many of the same provisions that were included in the Governors tax relief package, such as;

  • Decreasing the short-term capital gains tax from 12% to 5%.
  • Combine the Child Care Expenses Credit with the Dependent Member of Household Credit to create one refundable $600 credit per dependent, while eliminating the current cap.
  • Increase Estate Tax threshold from $1 million to $2 million (Healey proposed $3 million).
  • Increase the rental deduction cap from $3,000 to $4,000.
  • Double the Senior Circuit Breaker Tax Credit from $1,200 to $2,400.

Two proposals included that were not in the Governor’s proposal were 1.) increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 30% to 40% of the federal credit. 2.) establishing a single factor apportionment in Mass based solely on receipts matching what 39 other states currently do. The tax proposal would also alter Chapter 62f of general law which triggers a tax refund if the state has excess revenue to adjust the credit to an equal amount per taxpayer rather than based on percentage of what taxpayer paid the commonwealth. The House tax proposal will tag along with the House budget proposal to the Senate side to be debated and most likely changed before going to vote.

HCA Provided Verbal Testimony on Licensure Bill for Non-Medical Services

The Home Care Alliance provided verbal testimony during a hearing held by the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs on H.649/S.380, An Act to Improve Massachusetts Home Care, which would create a licensure system for non-medical home care services.

For many years, the Home Care Alliance and our members have advocated for home care licensure, as we believe that agencies should be held to a baseline set of standards that would protect consumers and workers. We believe that this bill has the framework to do just that, without overburdening providers, and driving consumers to seek services in the unregulated, underground market.

We need your help to get this bill over the finish line. Please Click this LINK to submit pre-written testimony to the committee. Submitting written testimony shows legislators and committee staff how much support this bill has amongst the industry and Massachusetts at-large. This increases the chance that the bill is voted out of committee and potentially be voted on and passed by the entire legislature. Your voice matters and we want to help you use it!

Look Ahead

Senates to Propose State Budget Proposal Soon

The Senate is expected to release their budget proposal next Wednesday, May 10th with a budget amendment deadline of Friday, May 12th. Since EOHHS released new chapter 257 rates that incorporate the EPTS, ARPA, and DALA settlement rate add-ons we do not expect the Senate to include an EPTS rate add-on.

We will still be keeping a close eye on their budget proposal and any amendments that are filed to the budget. During the House budget process an amendment was added that would require a 75% of rate payments to home care agency providers for the elder home care program be spent by such home care agency providers on direct care workforce wages and benefits. The amendment was not added to the House’s final budget proposal after HCA along with the EPTS coalition worked hard to educate legislators and committee staff about the issues with amendment and how the language is not needed. We will keep a close eye to see if the same amendment is added to the Senate budget proposal.

Federal Recap

CMS Proposes That 80% of Medicaid Payments for Home Care Go to Direct Care Workers

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services proposed two rules surrounding access to Medicaid. Among the provisions is a requirement that at least 80% of Medicaid payments for personal care, homemaker and home health aide services be spent on compensation for direct care workers.

The two proposed rules are Ensuring Access to Medicaid Services (Access NPRM); and Managed Care Access, Finance, and Quality (Managed Care NPRM). The former, Access NPRM, also would call for the following related to home care and home- and community-based services:

  • Require states to publish the average hourly rate paid to direct care workers delivering personal care, home health aide and homemaker services;
  • Require states to establish an advisory group for interested parties to advise and consult on provider payment rates and direct compensation for direct care workers;
  • Require states to report on waiting lists in section 1915(c) waiver programs; service delivery timeliness for personal care, homemaker and home health aide services; and a standardized set of HCBS quality measures;
  • Promote public transparency related to the administration of Medicaid‑covered HCBS through public reporting of quality, performance, and compliance measures;
  • Establish a new strategy for oversight, monitoring, quality assurance, and quality improvement for HCBS programs;
  • Strengthen person‑centered service planning and incident management systems in HCBS; and
  • Require states to establish grievance systems in fee-for-service HCBS programs.

“The Biden-Harris Administration has made clear where we stand: We believe all Americans deserve the peace of mind that having health care coverage brings,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “We are proposing important actions to remove barriers to care, engage consumers, and improve access to services for all children and families enrolled in these critical programs.”

Providers expressed a lukewarm reaction to the rule. While they were pleased that the Biden administration is addressing access challenges and rate transparency with HCBS, they did not appreciate that the rule does not confront actual payment rates. NAHC said in response to the proposal that “however, we are concerned that CMS is not proactively addressing the chronically woeful state payment rates for home and community-based services and instead is creating a new bureaucratic analysis that may or may not ever impact the wages of workers. We are further concerned that CMS has decided to forego ensuring adequate state payments in favor of applying an arbitrary requirement to pass through a proportion of the rates to direct care workers. This policy cannot be effective without consideration of the actual payment rates or the substantial administrative requirements that federal and state regulations place on providers.”

President Biden Issues Executive Order to Make Home Care More Affordable

On Tuesday, President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) that includes 50 directives to Cabinet-level agencies with the goal to improve transparency and access for home care services, including for veterans, while boosting industry standards and expanding areas of federal coverage. Some of the provisions included in the EO include:

  • Directs HHS to consider issuing several regulations and guidance documents to improve the quality of home care jobs, including by leveraging Medicaid funding to ensure there are enough home care workers to provide care to seniors and people with disabilities enrolled in Medicaid, as well as build on the minimum staffing standards for nursing homes and condition a portion of Medicare payments on how well a nursing home retains workers.
  • Identify which of their grant programs can support long-term care for individuals working on federal projects, and consider requiring applicants seeking federal job-creating funds to expand access to care for their workers.
  • Directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve access to home-based care for veterans who require support with activities of daily living, like bathing and getting dressed, by giving them more decision-making power over who delivers that care and when.

In addition, the EO notes that the Department of Labor will publish a sample employment agreement so domestic child-care and long-term care workers and their employers can ensure both parties better understand their rights and responsibilities. The purpose of this is to grow awareness of employee’s options when it comes to unionizing. This is a report that we will be closely watching for when it is released. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Possible Bagel?

For those that didn’t religiously watch the West Wing, a bagel is another term for a recession. Forecasters at the Federal Reserve in April, warn of a possible recession later this year, further stowing doubt in the U.S. economy. Even though inflation eased this last month, only up 5% compared to last year, which is the lowest rate in the last 2 years, some recent data spooked forecasters to raise the probability of a bagel. Data that was released in April showed that retail spending is down, grocery sales were flat (even though prices went down), and service inflation (price of services like restaurant meals and haircuts) increased to over 7%, an absurdly high number. This is what led the federal reserve to increase interest rates once again in the beginning of May. This data along with reports that banks have started to cut back lending due to high interest rates and the recent collapses of SVB, Signature and just this last week One Republic bank, led some forecasters to raise the probability of a mild bagel later this year….. I hate when they do that, say something will happen “later this year”, it’s already May, almost halfway through the year? Does that mean it could happen in October or November? Then just say that!

Anyway, not everyone is predicting a mild bagel, some predict the economy to just “slow down” but not to fall into a bagel. But that still means that everyday people will continue to suffer. For the economy to “slow-down” that would mean that unemployment would rise, wage growth would drop, and the housing market would get worse than it is. In plain English, the Fed is trying to FUCK over average American’s and continue to make regular life harder and harder. I already accepted that I won’t be able to buy a house right now, but the Fed has made it clear that their actual goal is to making owning property impossible for millions of Americans. Bagel or no Bagel, it is getting really rough out here in America. And a bunch of fat-cat, ivy league people are trying to convince me that they are on my side during all this. History has shown that that is never the case. In the end, the more powerful and rich will continue to become richer and more powerful. All I can say is please put your money in some high yield savings accounts and hope for the best.

Pentagon Leak

We have finally hit the time that Si-Fi movies were predicting in the 80s when top-secret government documents were being leaked through video games. Like something out of The Americans, 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, American airman in the 102nd Intelligence Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, leaked top secret Pentagon documents in a group chat on the platform Discord. The leaked highly classified documents included details about the war in Ukraine, intercepted communications about U.S. allies such as Israel, South Korea and Egypt, and details of American penetration of Russian military plans, among other topics. Teixeira charges include unauthorized retention and transmission of national defense information and unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material. The bulk of documents that were leaked are thought to have originate from the CIA’s Operations Center and the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The documents appear to have been printed and folded twice. In some images there are items clearly visible in the background, including a hunting magazine, a knife and a tube of Gorilla-brand glue.

What I find most interesting about this story is that he used Discord. Now I have only been in this job for a little over a year but from everyone I have met, I can imagine that over 95% of you have no idea what discord is, and those that do is because they have kids that are at least teenagers. For those that don’t know discord is a rapidly growing communication platform where gamers can join parties to talk to other gamers. Think of it as like having one platform for all your group chats. That chat rooms vary, they could be filled with close friends, or just with people that share similar interests. While Discord is rapidly growing, its user rate is far behind bigger communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook. While 150 million active users may seem like a lot, that is only a quarter of Twitter’s active users (450 million) and a fraction of Facebooks 2.96 billion users.

So, it begs the question why he would choose this platform to release the documents. If he wanted to blow the lid on the U.S.’s foreign activities he would have used a bigger platform to reach more people. Using Discord is equivalent to leaking a story to the Cape Cod times rather than the Boston Globe. Not a lot is known about his true reasoning for why he leaked the documents. What is known is that he was suspicious of law enforcement and the U.S. intelligence community and was prone to ranting about “government overreach,” one of the group members told the Post. It is reported that roughly half of the chat group members lived abroad and that those who appeared most interested in the classified material were primarily from the “Eastern Bloc and those post-Soviet countries.” I think he was just trying to show off to his friends in some sort of manner and didn’t care about the consequences. He forgot that real life isn’t like Call of Duty and that when you are caught, you can’t just start the level all over again.

Look Ahead

Debt Ceiling

Currently, all focus is on the debt ceiling negotiations. Congress is running out of time to increase the debt ceiling to avoid federal defaults. Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, recently announced that the U.S. could default on its debt as early as June 1 and must move quickly to avert disaster. A debt default could trigger an economic downturn, which would prompt a spike in unemployment.

House Republicans lead by Speaker Kevin McCarthy recently passed “The Breaking the Gridlock Act”, that would increase the debt ceiling but would also scale back a wide swath of annual government spending to last year’s levels, a cut of about 8%, and cap its growth by 1% each year after that. The package also includes provisions that would require certain adult Medicaid recipients to work, perform community service, or participate in an employment program for at least 80 hours per month or earn a certain minimum monthly income. It would apply to those ages 19 to 55, but not those who are pregnant, parents of dependent children, those who are physically or mentally unfit for employment or enrolled in education or in substance abuse programs, among other exceptions.

This is where a line has been drawn in the sand. Democrats strongly disagree with every aspect of the Republican bill, Democrats do not want to pass a debt ceiling bill that would require a cut in spending nor cap growth in any capacity, nor do they want to implement work requirements. With Democrats in control of the Senate by a super slim margin, they do not have any plan to pass the Republicans proposal as is. Publicly Democrats have railed against Republicans for their proposal, accusing Republicans of holding the country hostage to demand federal cuts that will hurt the poor. But behind close doors their are reports that senior Democrats and the White House are actively working with a group of Republicans on a last minute deal to either suspend or lift the debt ceiling. Little is known of what Democrats are willing to leave on the table from the Republican package. I do expect that a deal will be reached in some capacity by the end of the month that will increase the debt ceiling. Both political parties love the spectacle that these situations create, but at the end of the day the few actual adults on both sides will work out a deal to avoid a potential disaster.

2024 Presidential Election Race

There is a massive storm brewing that is expected to hit all of America, that storm is the 2024 presidential race. The race is getting closer and closer with each passing day, President Biden announced that he plans to run for office again, if elected he would 86 when his second term ends; making him the oldest president ever.

Reports are also speculating that Florida Governor DeSantis will soon announce a presidential exploratory committee and may even announce his candidacy in Mid-May. Cloudy skies are starting to form and before we know it, we will all once again experience the nausea that comes from the race for president.

Trump Arrest

Now many legal experts have said that the charges are not that strong, and that amongst the multiple cases he could be facing, this one is the weakest. This case will not go through the thick of the legal system, where expensive lawyers make their money filing motion after motion to delay and change the scope of the case. I do not imagine a final ruling on a case anytime soon. The arrests will not stop him from running from president. Political analysts are split on whether or not the arrest will hurt him politically. Trump has shown time after time that analyst know nothing and that anything can be true and false at the same time when it comes to Trump.

The Rundown – January 2023

Federal

Apologies for the delay with the January edition of “The Rundown”, but if the federal government could delay swearing in their members, then I can be late with my report. To put it mildly, things got a little crazy since November at the federal level.

Federal Budget

To put it mildly, things got a little crazy since November at the federal level. Let’s start off with the least complicated stuff that happened. In December, the government passed a massive $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through September 2023. The spending package includes language that would increase transparency of the payment rate-setting method employed by CMS. We were disappointed that the package does not include language that would suspend the entirety of the behavioral adjustment cut to the CY 2023 home health payment in CMS’s CY 2023 Final Rule. Additional provisions that were included that are noteworthy include:

  • Two-year extension of Medicare telehealth provisions
  • Two-year delay in implementing the Medicare tele-mental health in-person requirement.
  • Paygo waived 2 years (was a 4% Medicare cuts across the board for 2023 and 2024)
  • Rural add on extended at 1% for 1 year for frontier counties
  • Medicaid Money Follows the Person program and spousal improvement protections extended to 2027
  • Modification of the 2023 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule that will increase payments by 2.5% in 2023 and 1.25% in 2024.

Speaker Race

Now to when things got crazy. Like a high school student trying to pass their driving test, it took House Republicans more than just a couple tries to elect a Speaker of the House. For about 4 days the public witness what House Republicans called “debating”, but what I would call the manifestation of a twitter comment section. A Speaker being named was mainly being held up by members of the House Freedom Caucus, who are generally considered the most conservative and farthest-right bloc of the Republican party. The Freedom had an extensive list of demands, such as, restore any member’s ability to make a “Motion to Vacate the Chair” and force a vote on removing the Speaker, and Decline to raise debt ceiling without a plan to cap spending and balance the federal budget in 10 years. Finally, late on Thursday night a final agreement was struck between the outliers and Republican leadership to garner their support and to elect a Rep. McCarthy as Speaker of the House and officially swear in the 117th Congress.

Now that everyone has been sworn in, the 117th Congress will see the Republicans in control of the House and the Democrats with a slim hold on the Senate. This will result in a lot of fanfare, twitter feuds, but very little actual legislative bills passed. As part of the agreement with the Freedom Caucus, McCarthy agreed that the House would not pass any budget that would increase spending and that they would look to reduce spending on any spending that is not defense related. This leaves the prospect of Congress passing any federal legislation requiring CMS to delay or suspend their rate cuts unlikely.  

State Update

New Year, new government! This January, Maura Healey was sworn in as the 73rd Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Healey is the first women to serve as Governor of Massachusetts and the nation’s first openly lesbian governor. Healey, previously the states Attorneys General since 2014, is a moderate Democrat with strong union ties. Healey received and endorsement from multiple union groups, including SEIU1199, who represents over 115,000 health care, higher education, public sector, and building service workers in Massachusetts. During her transition period HCA wrote a memo to Healey’s transition team detailing our legislative priorities for her time as governor.

January also marks the beginning of the 193rd Session of the Massachusetts State Legislature. HCA has been in close contact with state legislative champions to have our key bills refiled by the filing deadline (January 20th). We will be refiling both the Licensure, and Rate Setting bills. HCA will also be holding a Home Care 101 seminar on January 7th with members of the Enough Pay to Stay Coalition. During the seminar, HCA and the EPTS will educate state staffers on the ins and outs of the home care industry and the vital role that home care workers play in Massachusetts’ health care system!

We would also like to set up state legislature visits with agencies. If an agency is willing to have their state representative/senator visit their office/operation, please email me at hcollins@thinkhomecare.org, and I will help to set up the visits.  

The Rundown – December

No Time to Waste! Urge Your Member of Congress to Delay CMS’s 2023 Home Health Rate Cuts

While I usually use the first section to cover federal news, this cannot wait. On October 31, 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule that will reduce Medicare payments for home health services by $635 million in 2023 and approximately $18 billion over the next decade. It was mandated by Congress in 2018 that CMS develop a payment model that would be “budget neutral”, not one that would reduce funding for home health care by over $18 billion.

Following the release of the final rule, HCA along with the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) re-engaged with the sponsoring offices of The Preserving Access to Home Health Act (S. 4605/H.R. 8581) on refining the legislation to delay CMS from implementing their 2023 home health payment cut for one year, as well as strengthen transparency of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in their rate-setting. Our champions on Capitol Hill are working to substitute this amended language in the negotiations for the year-end package. 

With time running out in the 117th Congress, lawmakers are inching closer to passing a final spending bill to keep the government funded. Home health advocates are pushing hard for a yearlong delay of the 2023 home health payment cut, which would otherwise take effect on January 1, 2023. However, NAHC has informed us that there is significant opposition to delaying these cuts.

We need your help once again and there is no time to spare! 

HCA members sent over 200 emails to members of the Massachusetts delegation urging their support ofS. 4605/H.R. 8581Your continuous outreach resulted in Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern and helped to persuade CMS from backing off their initially proposed 7% rate cut. We must continue our aggressive outreach in order to persuade Congress to include the revised language in the year-end budget!

Helping out is as easy as clicking on the this ACTION ALERT link, filing in your information which will send a pre-written email to your member of Congress urging them to support a year-long delay (2023) of CMS’s proposed home health rate cut and call for added transparency in CMS rate-setting practices.

It is so easy thatmy 6-month-old golden retriever Daisy was able to do it and she got her nose stuck in a peanut butter jar the other day. I will be sending out numerous reminders to reach out to your member of Congress over the next couple of weeks! You will not be able to escape me as I try to get as many people to help us in our mission to stop CMS. We need you and anyone that you know to reach out!

Federal Recap

Now back to the recap. This edition will be lighter than previous editions due to the holiday season. The time between mid-November and the new year is notoriously slow due to the holiday season, but there is still some stuff I would like to update you all on.

Campaign season has officially come to a close! Ralph Warnock won the Georgia run-off election this week, defeating Republican challenger and self-proclaim Texan (his words) Herschel Walker. Warnock’s win gives Democrats a 1 seat majority in the Senate, wrapping up 2 years of 50-50 split in the Senate. Though this may not seem like a large enough margin to matter, it will have a big impact over the next two years. With a 1 vote majority, Democrats can take much more operational control of the Senate, easing the confirmation of contentious nominees, clearing the way for investigations and availing themselves of breathing room on a variety of matters. Democrats will now hold a one-seat advantage on congressional committees that are now evenly split. This will prevent Republicans from being able to block confirmation nominees while in committee if Democrats are able to hold together on a nominee. The Biden Administration will likely use this opportunity to pack the lower courts with Democratic judges. Many judicial nominees only require a one vote majority to be passed through committee and the Senate. Democrats will still be blocked from passing sweeping legislation in the Senate due to the risk of a filibuster by the Republicans.

Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer both announced that they will be stepping down from their position as Speaker of the House and House Majority Leader respectively. Pelosi and Hoyer’s announcement marks the end of the era for the number 1 and 2 in the Democratic party and will usher in a new era in Democratic politics. Democrats moved quickly to fill their leadership vacancies, electing Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) to be party leader, Massachusetts own Katherine Clark (MA-5) to be minority whip (number 2) and Rep. Pete Aguilar (CA-31), to Jeffries current position of Democratic caucus chairman (number 3). Pelosi and Hoyer both stated that they will still serve in the House the remainder of their terms, which I will imagine will result in them still holding puppet power till they retire. The new leadership will have their hands full in the new year when Republicans take over control of the House. Current Republican Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (CA-23) is expected to be elected Speaker of the House in the new session. McCarthy has already signaled that he plans to make the House into a TV spectacle for the next two years. McCarthy has been setting up a the potential for congressional investigation into the Hunter Biden laptop scandal, which will be sure to make great TV.

Look Ahead

The only thing that we will be looking at in December is a potential year-end budget deal to fund the government for the next year. As I wrote before, it is imperative that you use this ACTION ALERT to urge your member of Congress, for some will be the now immensely powerful Katherine Clark, to urge them to support a year-long delay (2023) of CMS’s proposed home health rate cut and call for added transparency in CMS rate-setting practices. Congress could decide to punt negotiations on a 2023 budget by deciding to pass a continuing resolution (CR), that would fund the government at the current levels for a specific amount of additional time. That amount of time could range from additional month to a full year. CR’s have become common practice over the last decade and will likely be used at some point in this process. It is imperative that we ask that they include in any deal to stop CMS from implementing their rate cuts. Please use the ACTION ALERT to do your part. I am happy to help anyone if they would like to reach out to their member in a different way, whether by phone, fax, hell the pony express! Ill take anything. Your voices matter!

Urge Congress to Reject Cuts Hospice Cap

We are also asking that our Hospice members use this ACTION ALERT to urge their member of Congress to reject a major hospice payment cap cut from being included in any end-of-year legislative package that Congress is currently negotiating. As is often the case with large, year-end spending bills, there are many programs and policies Congress wants to “stuff in” to an omnibus funding package before the close of the year. In order to pay for all these priorities, lawmakers must identify “offsets” to fund them.

A significant reduction of the hospice aggregate cap, as has been recommended by MedPAC in the past, is being considered for one such “offset”. We need your help as hospice leaders to tell Congress that cutting the cap in a major and rushed way is bad policy.

It is imperative that we all do our part to make sure that there are no major hospice payment cap cut included in the end-of-year budget!! 

State Recap/Look Ahead

Just like at the federal level, this edition will be lighter than previous editions due to the holiday season. To quickly cover what has happened since the last rundown, Maura Healey has begun her transition process, naming members of her transition team. This marks what will be a long transition period for the Healey team. Healey is in a rare position as opposed to previous Governor-elects; Healey currently holds high office as the current Massachusetts Attorney General (AG). Healey will not only have to manage taking the reins from Governor Baker, but Healey will also have to manage transitioning her AG office over to AG-elect Andrea Campbell. Many legislators that I have spoken with have pointed out that this is no easy task and will likely result in a slower than usual transition period.

HCA is currently drafting several pieces that we will be sharing with the Healey transition team that clearly states our priorities for her time as Governor. We have also been in constant contact with our state legislative champions to advocate to the Governor-elects team on our behalf.

I will be sure to keep you up to date on any on-going developments as it pertains to the transition from Governor Baker to Governor-elect Healey.

No Time to Waste! Urge Your Member of Congress to Delay CMS’s 2023 Home Health Rate Cuts

On October 31, 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released a final rule that will reduce Medicare payments for home health services by $635 million in 2023 and approximately $18 billion over the next decade. It was mandated by Congress in 2018 that CMS develop a payment model that would be “budget neutral”, not one that would reduce funding for home health care by over $18 billion.

Following the release of the final rule, HCA along with the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) re-engaged with the sponsoring offices of The Preserving Access to Home Health Act (S. 4605/H.R. 8581) on refining the legislation to delay CMS from implementing their 2023 home health payment cut for one year, as well as strengthen transparency of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in their rate-setting. Our champions on Capitol Hill are working to substitute this amended language in the negotiations for the year-end package. 

With time running out in the 117th Congress, lawmakers are inching closer to passing a final spending bill to keep the government funded. Home health advocates are pushing hard for a yearlong delay of the 2023 home health payment cut, which would otherwise take effect on January 1, 2023. However, NAHC has informed us that there is significant opposition to delaying these cuts.

We need your help once again and there is no time to spare! 

HCA members sent over 200 emails to members of the Massachusetts delegation urging their support of The Preserving Access to Home Health Act. Your continuous outreach resulted in Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern and helped to persuade CMS from backing off their initially proposed 7% rate cut. We must continue our aggressive outreach in order to persuade Congress to include the revised language in the year-end budget!

Please use the action alert below to write to your member of Congress urging them to support a year-long delay (2023) of CMS’s proposed home health rate cut and call for added transparency in CMS rate-setting practices.

Home Care Alliance Signs onto CMS Letter to House and Senate Leadership

The Alliance signed onto an advocacy letter written by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) to House and Senate leadership asking for their support in suspending the implementation of CMS’s final for the Home Health Prospective Payment System (HHPPS).

This week, the Alliance signed onto an advocacy letter written by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC) to House and Senate leadership asking for their support in suspending the implementation of CMS’s final for the Home Health Prospective Payment System (HHPPS). As a reminder, CMS’s final rule if implemented would reduce Medicare payments for home health services by $635 million in 2023 and trigger an estimated $18 billion in payment reductions over the next decade.

The Alliance joined 49 other home care associations across the nation in signing this letter. The letter highlights the immense impact that the final rule would have on the agency across the country, noting that “the impact of those payment cuts would exacerbate the ongoing dismantling of this essential benefit that serves over 3 million of the most vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries, providing them with exceptional care quality in their own homes, preventing high-cost hospitalizations, and offering an alternative to life-changing institutional care while saving Medicare billions in spending every year.

NAHC is currently working with key sponsors and co-sponsors of the CMS bill (S.4605/H.R.8581)that was introduced in August, to re-write the bill in response to CMS’s final ruling. The exact details of the revision of the bill have not yet been determined, but once they are the Alliance will re-engage with the Massachusetts delegation to update them on the changes and to garner their support for the new version of the bill. We will also be asking our members to once again reach out to their member of Congress to support the new version of the bill.

Home Care Providers Looking for Permanent Rate Boost

The Home Care Alliance was quoted in an article published by the CommonWealth that highlighted HCA’s and the Enough Pay to Stay (EPTS) Coalitions pursuit to make the EPTS rate add-ons permanent for home health aides. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Via CommonWealth, September 30, 2022

The Home Care Alliance was quoted in an article published by the CommonWealth that highlighted HCA’s and the Enough Pay to Stay (EPTS) Coalitions pursuit to make the EPTS rate add-ons permanent for home health aides. Below is an excerpt from the article.

Jake Krilovich, the executive director of the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts, said one-year add-ons are not a great approach because they are temporary. “They go from state budget to state budget, and that leads to uncertainty for providers where they do not know if the add-on will continue past the next state budget,” said Krilovich. The rate add-ons went into effect as an emergency provision on September 2, and cover services from July 1 of this year through June 30, 2023. “We need the add-ons to try and pay workers more to attract more workers, but in the meantime, we’re working on bills that address structural reform and how rates are set,” said Krilovich.

Harrison Collins, the director of legislative and public affairs of the Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts, said the coalition is drafting a bill that would provide more secure rates for health and home care workers. “I couldn’t imagine my wage depending on a rate-add on every year, but that’s the world we live in, and that’s what goes on in this kind of sector,” said Collins. “It’s the people that need the service that end up getting hurt because the demand isn’t met.”

By Jusneel Mahal

Home Health Rate Bump Needs To Be Permanent

The Home Care Alliance was quoted in State House News Service’s coverage of an Executive Office of Health and Human Services public hearing on implementation of the Enough Pay to Stay rate add-ons. During the hearing HCA argued that the rate add-ons must be made permanent. Below is an excerpt from the State House News Service’s article.

Via State House News Services, September 29, 2022

The Home Care Alliance was quoted in State House News Service’s coverage of an Executive Office of Health and Human Services public hearing on implementation of the Enough Pay to Stay rate add-ons. During the hearing HCA argued that the rate add-ons must be made permanent. Below is an excerpt from the State House News Service’s article.

At an Executive Office of Health and Human Services public hearing on Wednesday to consider final regulations, Harrison Collins, director of legislative and public affairs at the Homecare Alliance of Massachusetts, said the rate add-ons would “minimize disruption on the providers and consumers” and said the increases need to be permanent, saying current rates are inadequate. “We hope the department will review these rates thoroughly this fall, as they are wholly inadequate to meet the current needs as evidenced by the number of [Executive Office of Elder Affairs] home care consumers who are awaiting all or partial services,” he said. The current base rates for home health aide services is $26.92 per hour, and the EOHHS hearing dealt with a $3.56 per hour addition on top of that base rate, Harrison told the News Service. The current average contracted rate for homemaker and personal care homemaker services through the Aging Service Access Points in the Executive Office of Elder Affairs Home Care Program is $29.14 per hour, he said. The hearing considered a $3.96 per hour rate add-on.

The Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts collaborated with other advocates, collectively calling themselves the Enough Pay to Stay coalition, for these add-ons to supplement the current base rates for home health aide and homemaker services through the MassHealth Home Health and EOEA Home Care programs. “This supplement is needed because the current base rates are not adequate to meet the current environment on the ground and demand for services,” Harrison told the News Service.

Sam Drysdale/SHNS
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