New Reform Bill Aims to Replace Medicare Home Health Rebasing Rule

Legislative efforts to reform payment cuts to the home health industry continue to gain support on Capitol Hill with Tuesday’s introduction of a new bill that aims to reform recent rebasing rules laid forth by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The Securing Access Via Excellence (SAVE) Medicare Home Health Act , introduced by House Representatives Greg Walden (R-OR) and Tom Price (R-GA), looks to replace CMS’s cuts to Medicare home health funding with a Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) program.

Congressmen suggest that the new program would achieve the same level of savings in the Medicare program while protecting beneficiaries’ access to home health care, rather than the rebasing rule that will cut Medicare payments to home health agencies by  3.5% each year until 2017—a rule that research and home health advocates have said will result in 40% of agencies insolvent.

“That’s a direct threat to the quality and accessibility of health care for Medicare beneficiaries,” stated Rep. Price. “More importantly, it is completely unnecessary.”

The nation can achieve the same level of savings by making home health care under Medicare more efficient with a focus on promoting and rewarding higher quality care, Price added.

“It’s a patient-centered approach that puts the well-being of beneficiaries and caregivers first and foremost,” he said.

The VBP Program would reduce hospital readmissions by establishing incentives that reward positive outcomes—in a fashion similar to recent rules enacted for skilled nursing facilities.

“What we propose is not only a smarter way to save taxpayer dollars,” Price said. “It is also an idea that Congress has already endorsed when applied to other areas of post-acute care. There’s no reason we cannot or should not do what’s necessary to protect home health care as a viable and accessible form of treatment for Medicare beneficiaries.”

Rep. Price has long exhibited his support for various home health-focused legislative efforts.

In February, the Georgia Representative was among other Congressmen to send a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling for the delay of the CMS rebasing rule.

In April 2013, Price co-sponsored a bill (H.R. 1717) to reverse another of CMS’s rules, the competitive bidding program for durable medical equipment.

Home health industry leaders commended the initiative led by Reps. Price and Walden.

“We applaud Congressmen Walden and Price for taking this very important step to securing seniors’ access to the high-quality, cost-reducing home healthcare that they prefer,” said Eric Berger, CEO of the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare (PQHH), in a statement. “By repealing the rebasing cuts beginning January 1, 2015, this legislation will help millions of seniors, family members, and professional caregivers.”

The SAVE Medicare Home Health Act is also designed to be budget neutral, as the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary would ensure VBP savings are sufficient to offsetting the repeal of the current rebasing cuts.

Additionally, proponents of the bill point out, however, that because home health agencies will be incentivized to help patients remain at home rather than be readmitted to the hospital, even greater savings are likely, said PQHH.

“Incentivizing home healthcare agencies to deliver high-quality care to beneficiaries and reduce hospital readmission rates represents a positive and proven approach to achieving savings without disrupting patient care,” stated Berger.

Written by Jason Oliva