Texas seniors deserve continued access to home health care

Roughly a quarter million Texans benefit from home health services each year. But now the federal government is threatening the ability of seniors to access this preferred method of care. Unless Medicare works to protect home health, many older Texans may lose their ability to choose where they want to heal after hospitalization.

Medicare home health care enables older Americans and people with disabilities to recover from serious injuries or illnesses in the safety of their own homes. It allows them to be surrounded by their loved ones and regain their health in a familiar environment, making recovery a more comfortable journey. And it’s no secret that patients would rather recover in their home. According to a new national poll from Morning Consult91% of older Americans and Medicare beneficiaries expressed the highest preference for receiving short-term recovery or rehabilitation health care at home.

Not only is home health care popular among patients, but it’s an important job creator. With more than 1,600 home health agencies across the state employing thousands of frontline workers, the home health sector is a huge part of Texas’ health care economy.

But now this important aspect of care is under threat. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed a permanent 7.69% payment cut to Medicare home health services beginning in 2023. If this proposal is finalized, an alarming $1.33 billion will be cut from home health care in 2023 alone, including more than $128 million in Texas.

Additionally, Medicare has proposed a $2 billion clawback cut beginning in 2024 to recover payments already made during the first two years of the pandemic, and a $1 billion clawback on services provided this year. Over the next 10 years, the total cuts could reach $18.15 billion. Taken together, all of this is very bad news for access to the best patient care.

These cuts would be absolutely devastating to the financial stability of the entire home health care sector and go much further than any cuts CMS has proposed in the past. The federal government doesn’t seem to consider the fact that demand for home health services is on the rise. Patients are growing older and sicker, with more than 25% of home health users being over the age of 85, and 43% having five or more chronic health conditions. These proposed cuts will only harm our most vulnerable seniors’ ability to access much-needed care. Medicare also isn’t taking into account that home health is experiencing a serious workforce crisis, with the shortage of workers further exacerbated by the pandemic.

There must be swift action to stop these cuts. Thankfully, the Lawmakers in Congress recently introduced the Preserving Access to Home Health Act of 2022 (HR 8581/S. 4605). This bipartisan legislation would prevent Medicare from imposing these deep and harmful permanent payment cuts until 2026, allowing patients to continue accessing their preferred method of care and giving providers stability as they continue recovering from the pandemic while Medicare hones its payment system.

As the founder and CEO of a leading technology innovator for home health care based in Dallas since 2007, I have seen firsthand just how critical care at home is for patients. I recommend Texas Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonz├ílez for signing on to this popular, bipartisan legislation and urge the rest of our Texas lawmakers to support these bills. The health of Texas’ Medicare beneficiaries depends on it.

John Olajide is the founder and CEO of Axxess. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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