With Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements continuing to flow, home health care providers most likely will not feel any immediate pain from a shutdown of the federal government that began Saturday.
“The Medicare contractors would continue to pay claims,” Bill Dombi, president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC), told Home Health Care News.
So-called “mandatory programs,” including Medicare, are not reliant on appropriations bills of the sort that Congressional lawmakers have failed to pass, causing the current shutdown. Immigration-related issues have been the main sticking point politically.
While payments to providers should not be interrupted, it will not be business as usual at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), and home health agencies should adjust expectations accordingly. For example, sweeping new Medicare regulations known as the Conditions of Participation (CoPs) just took effect on Jan. 13, and providers might find it harder to get answers to pending questions about these rules, Dombi noted.
LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit senior care providers, including home health and home care providers, also cautioned that federal staff likely will not be available to answer questions or provide technical assistance.
“Most federal staff would be furloughed, meaning they would be sent home, not permitted to enter their government workplace, and forbidden from conducting government business from any other site,” LeadingAge noted on its website. “Only a very small number of individuals—’essential staff’—are exempted and continue working.”
Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a plan to furlough about 41,000 workers while another 41,000 would continue to work during the shutdown. The Medicare and Medicaid programs would not experience major disruption during a short-term shutdown, according to the HHS plan. States should have sufficient Medicaid funding through the second quarter of the year, the department notes.
However, other programs affecting seniors would be strained or suspended.
In particular, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) would not be able to fund the long-term care ombudsman program or senior nutrition programs. So, Meals on Wheels service could slow down or stop in some places, although this would vary by location. For example, Meals on Wheels in Portland, Oregon, raises most of its funding privately, so should be able to continue operating through a shutdown, the Washington Post reported.
Throughout the day Sunday, a bipartisan group of about 20 Senators worked on a compromise package, which would re-open the government for at least a few weeks while action is taken on immigration. As of late Sunday night, a vote on the measure was expected to take place Monday at noon, although it was questionable whether it would pass.
The last federal government shutdown took place in 2013, and lasted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 17.
Written by Tim Mullaney