Seniors in Texas deserve continued access to home health care

Approximately a quarter of a million Texans benefit from 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 may lose the ability to choose where they want to be treated after hospitalization.

Medicare home health care allows 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 recover in a familiar environment, making recovery a more comfortable journey. And it’s no secret that patients prefer to recover at home. According to a new national survey by Morning Consult, 91% of older Americans and Medicare beneficiaries expressed their highest preference for receiving short-term health care for recovery or rehabilitation at home.

Home health care is not only popular with patients, but also creates important work. 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 the 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 payment cut of 7.69% for Medicare home health services beginning in 2023. If this proposal is finalized, a troubling $1.33 billion would be cut from home health care alone in 2023, including more than $128 million in Texas.

In addition, Medicare proposed a $2 billion reduction in reimbursements starting in 2024 to reimburse payments already made during the first two years of the pandemic, as well as $1 billion in reimbursements for services provided this year. Over the next 10 years, total cuts could reach $18.15 billion. Taken together, this is all 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 sector and would go far beyond any cuts proposed by CMS in the past. The federal government seems to be ignoring the fact that the demand for home health services is growing. Patients are getting older and sicker, with more than 25% of home health care users over the age of 85 and 43% having five or more chronic conditions. These proposed cuts will only harm the ability of our most vulnerable seniors to access much-needed care. Medicare also fails to take into account that home health care is experiencing a severe workforce crisis, with worker shortages further exacerbated by the pandemic.

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

As the founder and CEO of a leading Dallas-based home health technology innovator since 2007, I’ve seen firsthand how important home care is to patients. I congratulate Texas Reps. Henry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez for signing this popular, bipartisan legislation and urge other Texas legislators 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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