Texas seniors deserve continued access to home health care

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About a quarter of a million Texans receive home health services each year. But now the federal government is threatening seniors’ ability to access this preferred method of care. Unless Medicare works to protect home health, many older Texans risk losing their ability to choose where they want to recover after hospitalization.

Medicare home health care allows older Americans and people with disabilities to recover from serious injury or illness in the safety of their homes. This allows them to be surrounded by loved ones and return to health in familiar surroundings, making recovery a more comfortable journey. And it’s no secret that patients prefer to recover at home. According to a new national survey from Morning Consult, 91% 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 is also a major job creator. With more than 1,600 home health agencies across the state employing thousands of frontline workers, the home health sector is a significant part of the health care economy in Texas.

But today, this important aspect of care is under threat. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently proposed a 7.69% permanent reduction in Medicare home health service payments starting 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 proposed a $2 billion clawback cut from 2024 to recover payments already made in the first two years of the pandemic, and a $1 billion clawback on services provided this year. Over the next 10 years, 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 healthcare industry and would go far beyond any cuts CMS has offered in the past. The federal government does not seem to take into account that the demand for home health services is on the rise. Patients are aging and getting sicker, with more than 25% of home care users over the age of 85 and 43% suffering from five or more chronic conditions. These proposed cuts will only hurt the ability of our most vulnerable seniors to access much-needed care. Medicare is also ignoring the fact that home healthcare is experiencing a severe workforce crisis, with worker shortages further exacerbated by the pandemic.

There must be quick action to stop these cuts. Fortunately, congressional lawmakers recently introduced the Preserving Access to Home Health Care Act of 2022 (HR 8581/S. 4605). This bipartisan legislation would prevent Medicare from imposing these deep and harmful permanent payment cuts through 2026, allowing patients to continue to access their preferred method of care and providing providers with stability as they continue to recover from the pandemic while Medicare perfects its payment system.

As Founder and CEO of a leading Dallas-based home healthcare technology innovator since 2007, I have seen how critical home care is for patients. I commend Texas Representatives Henry Cuellar and Vicente González for signing this grassroots, bipartisan legislation and urge the rest of our Texas lawmakers to support these bills. The health of Medicare beneficiaries in Texas 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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