The Rundown – January

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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