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Opinion | Don’t allow cuts to Medicare’s home health care benefit

Imagine if you or a loved one were given the choice between returning home to recover after a stint at the hospital or to healing at a nursing center. Which would you choose?

 Barry Cargill headshot
Barry Cargill is president and CEO of the Michigan HomeCare & Hospice Association.

If you’re like most Americans — more than four out of five — you’d probably choose to receive short-term recovery or rehabilitation care at home. That is what makes at-home care such a vital part of our overall healthcare system. Home health care providers and agencies exist to make the transition from hospital to home as seamless and easy as possible for patients and their families.

Nationwide, millions of seniors and patients with disabilities rely on Medicare’s home health benefit, including more than 100,000 aging and at-risk individuals here in Michigan. This program helps to connect Medicare beneficiaries with the support and care they need to recover from an illness or injury in the comfort and safety of their own homes. This care includes access to skilled nurses, home health aides, physical therapists, social workers and more.

However, the future of Medicare’s home health program is in jeopardy as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that manages Medicare, is proposing yet another round of steep cuts to the program. Beginning in 2024, Medicare has proposed implementing cuts that would total nearly 10 percent, which will mean about a $20 million cut to Michigan’s home health programs.

Combined, these cuts could translate to $20 billion being slashed from the Medicare home health program over the next decade. Given the challenges the home health care sector is already facing — including a workforce shortage and provider burnout, both of which have gotten worse since the start of the pandemic — it is possible these massive cuts would put many home health care providers and agencies out of business.

The one bit of good news in all of this is that Congress has the power to prevent Medicare from moving forward with its proposal. And fortunately for home health beneficiaries in Michigan, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), has introduced a bipartisan bill to help protect the future of home health care.

The Preserving Access to Home Health Act (S. 2137/H.R. 5159) would restrict Medicare from making any further cuts to home health until at least 2028. It would also require the independent, nonpartisan organization that advises members of Congress on Medicare payment policies to gain further understanding of the economics of the home health care system and how Medicare, Medicaid, and Medicare Advantage all contribute to the system.

Data shows Medicare’s proposed cuts to the Medicare home health program are forcing patients into nursing homes and increasing the time seniors have to stay in the hospital before they return home, which is harmful to seniors’ overall well-being, not to mention the enormous costs that result from keeping patients in the hospital longer. Without access to home health, this problem will only worsen.

To protect at-risk patients and preserve a strong Medicare home health program that meets the needs of seniors and those with disabilities, Congress must follow the leadership of Senator Stabenow and help pass the Preserving Access to Home Health Act before the end of the year.

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Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact David Zeman. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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