Newfound Recognition of Home-Based Care Amid COVID-19 Could Benefit Regulatory Advocacy

A growing number of media outlets have recently declared home-based care the new front line of the coronavirus. While the recognition is well deserved, there’s nothing new about in-home care providers’ efforts. 

Agencies have been braving the COVID-19 battlefield since the beginning, pulling patients from skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) and overburdened hospitals to care for them safely at home; what’s new is that in-home care providers are finally getting the acknowledgement they deserve, which could bode well on the advocacy front down the line.

At least that’s the hope of industry leaders like Brent Korte, the chief home care officer at Seattle-area EvergreenHealth. Back in February, EvergreenHealth Home Care’s affiliate hospital treated the first positive COVID-19 patient to die in the U.S.

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Korte and his colleagues have been on the front lines ever since.

“I hope that this is going to lead toward more progressive regulatory considerations, more considerations toward virtual care [and] telehealth,” Korte recently told Home Health Care News. “And hopefully, home care will continue to have a louder voice in conversations at the top levels of government to ensure that we have a seat at the table that is positioned to our relevance.”

To some degree, that’s happened.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has suspended Medicare sequestration, allowed non-physician practitioners to certify home health visits and provided various forms of financial relief for home health providers. All these efforts are designed to help agencies fight the COVID-19 virus.

As the Wall Street Journal has acknowledged, that’s not an easy job — but an increasingly important one.

“Until there is a vaccine that can protect those most at risk, the need for these [home-based care] workers, whether paid by individuals or through Medicare and Medicaid, is expected to remain high,” a recent WSJ article said. 

Similarly, CNBC.com called the nation’s 3.3 million home health care workers the “other front-line heroes in the war against the coronavirus.”

The Associated Press made a similar point in an April 26 story.

“The crisis is testing the [home-based care] industry, but it’s also a moment of pride for workers who have often felt under-recognized,” the article said.

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) and state-level associations are hoping they can parlay that newfound recognition into even more regulatory flexibilities for providers, with the goal being to help them fight the coronavirus and stay financially stable in the aftermath.

Currently, NAHC is urging Congress to increase Medicare home health reimbursement by 15% and make home-based care providers a priority to receive personal protective equipment (PPE). The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization is also calling on CMS to sign off on reimbursable telehealth visits and to suspend certain orders and eligibility certification during the COVID-19 emergency.

“[Home health agencies] are already providing care to patients COVID positive and are prepared to take on additional cases,” association leaders wrote in a letter urging constituents to contact their members of Congress. “By leveraging home health to its fullest extent, hospital beds can be freed up for the most severe cases, precious PPE can be more efficiently utilized, costs of care will decrease, patients’ peace of mind will increase and further spread of the infection can be minimized.”

In June 2018, HHCN highlighted how the home health industry had more political clout to shape policy than ever before.

“Back in the 70s, 80s and even into the 90s, we were dealing with kind of elementary aspects of things, mostly to the understanding of what home care would be in terms of breadth and depth,” NAHC President William A. Dombi told HHCN at the time. “We’ve had to step up our game in terms of how we work in partnership with federal agencies and in partnership with Congress.”

The coronavirus is giving in-home care providers the ability to step up their game even further.

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