The Rundown – June 2023

State Recap

EOHHS Holds Hearing on Chapter 257 Rates for Certain Elder Care Services

On May 19th, HCA testified at the EOHHS Chapter 257 rate review hearing. As a reminder, EOHHS has proposed increasing rates for Enhanced Community Options Program (ECOP) Direct Services from $749.47 to $976.08 per client per month and rates for Home Care Program Direct Services from $326.35 to $424.34 per client per month, which amounts to a 30% increase to the base rate for both ECOP and Home Care Program Services.

During our testimony, HCA highlighted our concerns with the lack of transparency when it comes to the rate review process and that EOHHS should use real-time inflation data rather than projected, expected inflation data when determining cost adjustment factors (CAF). HCA wants to thank all members that submitted written testimony for the hearing, your input is very important. EOHHS still plans to meet the July 1st, 2023, deadline to promulgate the new proposed rates.

Senate Starts Debate over Senate FY24 Budget Amendment

In the end of May, the Senate started debates over amendments to their proposed FY24 budget. After 2 days of debate, the Senate has added $65.4 million in line-item spending to its $55.8 billion plan. One amendment of note that is set to pass is Sen. Patricia Jehlen amendment # 400, which would amend the Chapter 257 Rate Reserve line item 1599-6903 as follows: “By inserting after the words “any human service provider receiving revenue under said Chapter 257” the following: “, and any home care agency subcontracting with such human service providers to provide home care services,”. This amendment would specifically single out that home care providers would need to comply with the 75% pass-through requirement that is stipulated in the line item. We would like to note that this pass-through requirement is much broader than a pass-through amendment that was floated during the House budget debate, that HCA along with the Home Care Aide Council successfully blocked. HCA along with the Home Care Aide Council drafted a letter to Senate Ways and Means staff and Senator Jehlen that stipulated our concerns with the amendment.

We emphasized that the amendment is redundant since home care is already mentioned in the line item and that it has the potential to create regulatory confusion. We also noted the by including the amendment language it would single out one provider group under Chapter 257 and would raise an issue of equity. We argued that the pass-through requirement should apply to chapter 257 requirements broadly and equitably to all providers. In the end the amendment was added to the Senate budget proposal that should be passed in the coming days. Once passed by the Senate the legislature will create a conference committee to debate the differences between the house and senate bills before sending a final bill for the governors signature. HCA will continue to advocate for the amendment to not be included in the final budget proposal.

Look Ahead

State Budget

In the beginning of June, the Senate should pass their state budget proposal for FY24. Once passed, the lengthy budget process will move to the next stop, conference committee debate. In June, after the senate passes their proposal a conference committee will be formed with legislators from both the House and Senate. The committee’s purpose is to iron out the differences between both budget proposals and create one final budget proposal for the legislator to pass.

While it seems like we are getting close to the finish line, that’s far from true. It could take a couple of weeks for the conference committee to debate the differences. Even then, once it’s created and passed by the legislature, it will still need to be reviewed and approved by Governor Healey, who is allowed to send back the proposal with suggested changes. Which is a common occurrence, last year former Governor Charlie Baker sent back the legislature proposal with amended language for an outside section.

Technically, the state has until June 30, 2023, when last year’s budget runs out, to pass a new budget and continue funding the government. The state never meets this deadline and passes a supplemental budget to extend FY23 funding until they are able to pass a new budget. Last year it took till July 28th, for Massachusetts to pass their FY23 budget, making Massachusetts one of the last states to pass a budget.

I will provide another budget update next month when inevitably the FY24 budget has not been passed.

Federal Recap

Debt Ceiling Debate Rages On

The main focus of everyone on Capitol Hill has been the on-going debate surrounding increasing the debt ceiling. For a brief backstory, the debt ceiling is the maximum amount of money that the United States can borrow cumulatively by issuing bonds. The debt ceiling was created under the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 and is also known as the debt limit or statutory debt limit. If U.S. government national debt levels bump up against the ceiling, then the Treasury Department must resort to other extraordinary measures to pay government obligations and expenditures until the ceiling is raised again or risk a drop in the U.S. credit rating or defaulting on loans (which both would be disastrous). The debt ceiling has been raised or suspended over 78 times since 1917 with the most recent raise being in 2021. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has been sounding the alarms for the last couple of months that the U.S. is at risk of hitting the debt ceiling as soon as June 5, NEXT MONDAY, setting a deadline for Congress to vote to either raise or suspend the debt limit.

Since the end of April, there has surprisingly been progress in the negotiations. President Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy struck a true compromise over Memorial Day weekend on a package to avert a disaster. The package would suspend the debt ceiling through Jan. 1, 2025, effectively moving any future debate till after the 2024 presidential election but would also reign in future government spending. Under the deal, non-defense spending, such as Medicare and Medicaid, would remain relatively flat in fiscal 2024 and increase by only 1% in fiscal 2025, 2% below a planned 3% increase in defense spending. After fiscal 2025, there would be no budget caps. One of the most contentious points of the deal is an increase to work requirements for adults that receive food stamps through SNAP. Lastly the deal stipulates that the student loan payment moratorium would be lifted this August.

While this is not exactly what both sides wanted, it is a true compromise between no cuts to spending that Dems wanted and massive cuts in spending that Republicans wanted. The biggest news is that this deal would prevent a potential economic meltdown that none of us have ever experienced. Just think about how hard life was when you had shitty credit. Now imagine if the U.S. credit rating was so bad that couldn’t even get pre-approved for a Kouls card. That is exactly what this deal would avert.

Look Ahead

Debt Ceiling

While there has been progress on the debt ceiling package, we are still not at the finish line. It wouldn’t be Congress without some superficial fanfare. Since Sunday, when text of the bill was released, Republicans and Democrats opponents of the bill in the House and Senate, mainly the house, have been SCREAMING for the last couple of days, calling this bill a shame. Republicans mad that they aren’t going farther with spending cuts, while Democrats hate the new work requirements and cuts to non-defense spending. There’s a lot of truly idiotic comments that I could write about, that just proved that there are a lot of members of Congress that only want the job for fanfare and notoriety and don’t even understand basic economics. But that would only give those members exactly what they want.

In the end all their shouting is as effective as a screen door in submarine. It’s a part of the game when both sides come to an actual agreement. The House passed the debt ceiling last night and Senate leadership on both sides has promised to move swiftly to pass the package before the June 5th deadline. Opponents on both sides in the Senate will still vocalize their opposition while the Senate debates the bill, but in the end, I believe that a deal will be met before June 5th. But when it comes to Congress you really never know what can happen, so, let’s all just hope for the best.

The main thing that we all need to keep a close eye on after the package is hopefully passed is now expected cuts to Medicare. With measly planned increases to all non-defense spending, there is a potential for deeper cuts to Medicare home care rates. CMS is already expected to propose further cuts and it could get a lot worse in the coming years. HCA is working closely with NAHC to stay up to date on any potential rate cuts that would directly impact our members. We will be sure to keep everyone updated if there are any potential cuts announced.

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.

Advocacy Alert: Email Senators Urging Support for HCA Budget Priorities

Last week, the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means committee released its fiscal year 2019 state budget totaling $41.4 billion dollars. Senators had a deadline of Monday to file amendments to the bill, and it will be debated next week. Three Alliance priorities have been filed as amendments. Below are brief descriptions of each, with a link to send a pre-drafted email to your state legislator. The Alliance encourages you to send an email for all three amendments.

Amendment #589: EMAC Assessment Hardship Waiver:

  • This amendment would authorize the Department of Unemployment Assistance to establish a hardship waiver for employers that provide services to EOHHS/EOEA clients, or services in the public interest, who have a financial burden as a result of their EMAC tax liability. Take Action.

Amendment #560: Enough Pay to Stay Amendment:

  • This amendment would provide $28.8 million in increased funding for the State’s home care system front-line workforce. Take Action.

Amendment #620: Continuous Skilled Nursing Funding

  • This amendment would provide a $16 million increase for the Commonwealth’s Continuous Skilled Nursing program to address the workforce shortage resulting in unfilled service hours. Take Action.

Advocacy Success: Governor Baker Proposes Amendment to Home Care Worker Registry

Do you ever wonder if your phone calls into legislator’s offices’ ever do anything? I certainly do. The feeling that you care so deeply about an issue and fight so hard for it, but that the effort isn’t reciprocated by our elected officials.

Or how about when you hear legislators say, “I’m waiting to hear from constituents on this issue.”… Are they really? Do they actually want to hear from us?

When advocates ask me this, I’m always one to say ‘yes, they do want to hear from you.’ But I also understand how people feel when they see common sense solutions seemingly receive no consideration.

Before I go on, I need to disclose that we have to keep fighting for this particular issue. The legislature could reject the Governor’s proposal. But the advocacy behind the recently proposed Home Care Worker Registry should answer all of these questions above and serve as a model.

As you’ve heard numerous times from the Alliance, the Massachusetts Legislature has proposed and included in its final version of the FY18 budget a Home Care Worker Registry. This registry would require agencies to submit its worker’s private information like gender and home address to the Department of Elder Affairs. We have raised numerous legal and privacy implications for this legislation and have fought throughout the budget process to defeat and modify the language.

Last week, we sent out two advocacy action alerts asking you all to send emails into Governor Baker’s office requesting him to amend this registry language and insert an opt-in option for home care workers to chose whether they want this private information disclosed to agencies, ASAP contractors or employer organizations.

In total, Alliance members sent nearly 150 emails to the governor’s office, and yesterday afternoon we found out that the Governor sent back this section to the legislature offering an opt-in amendment. It was one of 9 sections in the over $40 billion budget that he chose to amend. Think about that for a second…

This is a clear accomplishment that proves these emails and phone calls do matter. That working with coalition partners in sync can make a difference.

But remember, we have work to do on this issue, so please keep an eye out for another advocacy alert that will urge the legislature to adopt the Governor’s suggestions and protect our workers!!

State Budget Cuts Impact Home Health Care

The Home Care Alliance participated in several calls with MassHealth and Health and Human Services on planned budget cuts from Governor Baker’s administration. In total, the Governor announced $98 million in cuts from the $39.25 billion state budget.

Although there are reductions in home health, there are positive rates increases to report.

After years of advocacy by the Alliance and more recent efforts from a coalition of continuous skilled nursing providers as well as a family-based network called the Mass. Pediatric Nursing Campaign, MassHealth informed the HCA that payment rates for Continuous Skilled Nursing will increase by 2.6%. According to MassHealth, this equates to a $2.2 million bump in rates, which will become effective January 1st, 2017.

For the RN and LPN day and night rates, the increase hovers around a $1 boost in what those agencies currently receive. The Alliance, along with the provider coalition and family-based campaign, will continue to advocate for further adjustments to continuous skilled nursing rates in the upcoming FY18 state budget cycle.

As for home health skilled nursing rates outside of CSN, payment will be reorganized by the length of service of the MassHealth member. As of July 1, 2017, MassHealth is planning to break up the current skilled nursing rate for home health agencies into three separate tiers. The first tier will be for patients on services from day 1 through 30, which will be increased from $86.99 to $89.21. The second rate tier will be 31-180 days and the third rate tier is any home health service beyond 180 days.

MassHealth has indicated that the rates in the second tier will remain relatively static and the third tier will be decreased, but post 30-day rates as of 7/1/17 will be budget neutral from the changes taking effect on January 1st. An announcement from EOHHS will specifically outline the new tiered rates, but according to MassHealth, anything regarding rates that is seen before the New Year is not finalized and therefore subject to change.

The other notable decrease will take effect on January 1st when MassHealth plans to approximate the budget impact of those proposed second and third rate tiers into the current post 60-rate. The cut in the post 60-day rate from 1/1/17 to 7/1/17 will be a 6.75% reduction. This means the current post 60-day rate of $69.59 will be roughly $64.89 for the first six months of 2017. (This rate remains higher than the medication administration rate originally considered by MassHealth.)

Laid out in another way, this will be how rates are currently planned to change:

January 1 – July 1:

Home health services post 60-day rate will be roughly $64.89 (6.75% reduction)

July 1:

Service days 1-30: $89.21

Service days 31-180: Rates will remain roughly the same, but are not yet finalized

Service days 180: Rates will be slightly reduced from the current post 60-day rate, but are not yet finalized.

MassHealth is also streamlining enrollment in the Independent Nursing program to cut their application process from 8 weeks down to one week.

The net state cut for home health is approximately $3.8 million out of $758 million in MassHealth spending on home health care services.

Most of the other cuts announced by the administration are restoring vetoes previously proposed by the Governor in the FY2017 budget, but that were overridden by the legislature. At that time, the Governor vetoed $255 million and the legislature overrode $231 million. Included in these cut overrides are certain hospital supplementary payments (particularly to pediatric and Western MA hospitals) as well as $1.1 million in cuts to public health hospitals.

Other impacted accounts include supplemental payments to nursing homes, which will be reduced by $2.8 million, as well as a $2.8 million cut to adult foster care (AFC).

The Pediatric Palliative Care account (4590-1503) is being reduced by $400,000.

The legislature has already announced their view that Governor Baker went too far with some of the announced cuts and they will be working on restoring some of the funding reductions.

HCA of MA has an upcoming meeting with MassHealth to review the Governor’s proposal.  Also on the agenda are issues with ICD-10 changes that are impacting agency billing and payment.

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Governor Outlines Budget Vetoes, Slashes Pediatric Palliative Care

With $256 million in spending reductions, the Governor approved his final approved FY17 state budget and it’s now up to the House and Senate to now discuss overrides before formal sessions conclude at the end of July.

Among the items preserved was a $200,000 item for the Department of Higher Education that funds the Nursing and Allied Health Workforce Initiative. The Home Care Alliance is among a large group of stakeholders that advocates for funding that supports grants to teams of colleges, health care providers, and workforce investment boards to advance training and education for nurses and direct care workers.

The governor did, however, reduce the legislature’s funding recommendation for the pediatric palliative care network by $400,000. The remaining $1.8 million is essentially a level-funding from previous years. It was one of 303 line items that saw reduced funding.

The largest reduction the Governor recommended was a $17.8 million drop in Nursing Home Supplemental Rates. The House and conference committee had recommended a total of $337.9 million while the Senate had suggested $332.9 million, but the number being sent by the Governor back to the legislature currently sits at $330.1 million.

Details on the Governor’s FY17 budget can be found on the “Governor’s FY17 Vetoes” webpage.

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Home Care Commission Denied in Budget, Cuts Handed to Elder Services

The merits of protecting consumers, setting minimum standards for companies and agencies providing in-home care, and controlling state costs were not enough to advance a Home Care Oversight Commission through the state budget.

The state’s FY17 Conference Committee released their final budget proposal on behalf of the legislature after regrouping in light of declining revenue projections. The Home Care Commission, which was included in the Senate budget, but not in the House, had to survive a “conference committee” of House ma budget pie chart picand Senate budget leaders that negotiated a fiscal plan between the two sides.

With Massachusetts being one of only five states without state oversight of home health care, and also with a goal to place some standards on private-pay home care, the commission would have convened legislators, home health agencies, private-pay home care, state officials, consumer groups and trade associations to recommend solutions. The language stipulated that there be separate sets of recommendations for home health and private pay home care.

Elsewhere in the budget, the declining revenue projections filtered through to hit the elder services network. Based on FY16 spending levels, a $2 million cut was made to “Elder Home Care Purchased Services” and $2.6 million reduction in the “Elder Home Care Case Management and Administration” account.

Two pieces of good news came in that Elder Protective Service got a boost of $4.5 over FY16 spending and the Pediatric Palliative Care Network received a boost of $404,578, but the Nursing and Allied Health Workforce Initiative remained leveled out at $200,000.

More silver lining came with a $1 million pilot program to test expanding income eligibility standards for services ordered by Aging Service Access Points.

In terms of MassHealth line items, the expected trends continued with the conference committee reducing the “Fee-for-Service” account by $161.7 million while increasing the accounts tied to MassHealth Managed Care ($71.1 million) and MassHealth Senior Care ($160.4 million).

Nursing Home Supplemental Rates also saw a raise with $45 million over FY16 spending.

The $39.15 billion budget now moves to the Governor for final approval and any further updates will be shared as they become available.

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Advocacy Alert: Gain Support for the Home Care Oversight Commission

The roughly $40 billion that will make up the legislature’s FY17 proposal must first go through a six-member “conference committee” that will negotiate on differences between the House and Senate budget versions.

Included in the Senate version was a special commission that will study, discuss, and make recommendations on separate policies for state-based oversight of home health and private-pay home care agencies. It will take advocacy to ensure that this important provision is included in the conference committee’s negotiated budget, and action can be taken through the HCA’s Advocacy Center.

Simply fill out the contact forms and hit “send” to help gain support for the Home Care Commission!

The Commonwealth is one of five states without either licensure or a “certificate of need” process for home health care services. Massachusetts has also recently experienced rapid growth in the number of “certified” home health agencies. The related and significant spike in MassHealth spending has forced the state to establish program integrity measures on these agencies.

Likewise, private-pay home care agencies across the state that provide mostly non-medical support services in the home have no state oversight and a study commission is needed to determine the best solution.

The Alliance will continue to update it’s members on this proposal.

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Senate Advances Home Care Commission in Budget

In a $39.5 billion budget, the Senate advanced Home Care Alliance priorities, namely a special commission that will study and make recommendations for state oversight of home care.

The commission would create a separate set of recommendations for certified home health and also private pay agencies. The group would include three representatives from each type of agency (certified and private-pay) as part of the membership along with policymakers, administration officials, and many others. During the Senate’s deliberations on more than 1,300 amendments, the Massachusetts Nurses Association and the MA Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Unfortunately, efforts to gain payment increases for home health aides and homemakers were not approved despite collaboration with the Home Care Aide Council, Mass Home Care, and several dedicated Senate offices. Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem) spoke well in debate on behalf of a home health payment review and Senator Barbara L’Italien (D-Andover) fought for inclusion of home health aide payment, in particular. Senator Patricia Jehlen (D-Somerville) and Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) also helped lead an effort to advance home care rates.

On a positive note,an amendment was defeated that would have created a publicly-available registry of home care workers that aimed to list private information.

In addition, the Senate approved a pilot program of just over $1 million that expands income eligibility standards for services coordinated through Aging Service Access Points.

Other notable items in the Senate’s budget include the following:

  • A feasibility study on allowing spouses to be paid caregivers under MassHealth.
  • Allowing a leave of absence for nursing home residents under MassHealth (20 medical leave days and 10 non-medical leave days).
  • A fund created from fines and penalties relative to patient abuse in nursing homes that funds the prevention of such action through staff training and education, enhanced inspections, and relocating residents to other facilities.
  • $20.5 million for the Nursing Home Quality Jobs Initiative as part of SNF Supplemental Rates.
  • $200,000 for Geriatric Mental Health Services.

The HCA thanks its members for the hundreds of emails and phone calls to Senators during the past two weeks. The state budget process moves on to a conference committee process where the House and Senate negotiate differences between their two FY17 proposals. The Alliance will continue to push for the commission to establish oversight measures as well as other items to strengthen home care.

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Advocacy Alert: Help Gain Support for Home Care in the Senate Budget

ma budget pie chart picThe Massachusetts Senate is taking their turn in the fiscal year year 2017 state budget process with a $39.49 billion proposed starting point.

Senators have filed just over 1,100 amendments seeking to add a combination of funding and policy language that will be debated next week, but advocacy is needed to gain support for the issues critical to home care agencies.

The Home Care Alliance’s Advocacy Center features prepared emails focused on these issues that can automatically be sent to your state senator. Click here to send a message on all of HCA’s priorities – OR send a specific message to urge support for improved home health aide reimbursement or a study of MassHealth reimbursement for all home health services.

Here are explanations of the Alliance’s priority items:

MassHealth Reimbursement to Home Health Aides – Amendment #596 (Senator Barbara L’Italien)

  • Home Health Aide Rates have not been reviewed since 2007.
  • This amendment raises the rate MassHealth reimburses home health agencies for home health aide services by 12% at a cost to MassHealth of $3.66 million which after federal match becomes $7.32 million.
  • This increase would also effect the purchase of home health aide services ordered through the state network of Aging Service Access Points (ASAPs) at a cost of $5.25 million.

MassHealth Home Health Reimbursement Review – Amendment #470 (Senator Joan Lovely)

  • Home health care is a cost-effective service that allows people of all ages – from maternal-child health services and pediatric patients to the elderly –to remain independent in their homes where they are most comfortable and at a lesser expense to their families and the Commonwealth.
  • Payment rates have not been reviewed since 2007. Current rates are based off of 2005 data and were cut in 2008.

Homemaker Wage Increase – Amendment #591 (Senator Michael Barrett)

  • On average, this request will provide an increase of $.50 per hour to homemakers and personal care homemakers providing care to clients enrolled in the Elder Home Care Program
  • This budget request will include language to raise the EOEA average compensation mandate in ASAP contracts from $12.69 per hour to $13.19 an hour for FY17

The Home Care Alliance appreciates that the Senate Committee on Ways & Means included language for the Home Care Oversight Commission, which seeks to convene legislators and stakeholders to recommend separate standards for licensure for private-pay home care and Medicare-certified home health.

The HCA is also supporting amendments, including #597 (Sen. L’Italien) to expand eligibility for in-home elder services and #622 (Sen. Humason) to bring Massachusetts into the Nurse Licensure Compact.

Other noteworthy items in the Senate budget include the following:

  • $2.6M for Pediatric Palliative Care, an increase of $800K over FY 2016 funds to meet the needs of terminally ill children and their families and eliminate the wait list for these critical services.
  • $200,000 for the Nursing and Allied Health Workforce initiative through the Mass. Department of Higher Education. Senator Michael Moore has proposed an amendment (#136) to raise the amount to $400,00, but this item from Senate Ways & Means goes a long way to ensuring that the item will be funded at previous levels.
  • Following the Governor’s lead, the Senate consolidated the Elder Enhanced Home Care (ECOP) line item and moved that funding to other accounts.
  • Nursing Homes secured $30 million (half of which will come from an added assessment on facilities) for added CNA reimbursement.
  • Nursing Home Supplemental Rates matched the Governor’s FY17 proposal at $332.9 million, which is $15 million below what the House approved.
  • The Home & Community Based Services Policy Lab also received funding not included in the House budget, which will help the state study the cost-effectiveness of certain long-term services and supports.

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