More lawmakers are throwing their support behind a continued pause to Medicare sequestration.
U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced new legislation on Tuesday aimed at stopping automatic 2% payment cuts to all Medicare providers, including home health agencies. The Medicare Sequester Relief Act specifically seeks to stave off sequestration until after the COVID-19 public health emergency officially ends.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how vital health care providers are to our communities, which is why Congress passed bipartisan sequester relief twice last year,” Sen. Collins said in a statement. “This bill Sen. Shaheen and I introduced would extend the moratorium preventing payment cuts to hospitals, physicians, home health providers and others as we continue to respond to this public health and economic crisis.”
The fact that Collins helped introduce the new legislation further solidifies her standing as a staunch home health ally. The Maine Republican has repeatedly signed her name to pro-home health bills over the past few years, long before home-based care grew into a national priority amid the COVID-19 crisis.
In October, for example, Collins joined the group of bipartisan lawmakers to introduce the Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act in both the House and Senate. Broadly, the HEAT Act sought to give home health agencies the ability to receive reimbursement for telehealth services furnished during the pandemic.
The same month, Collins similarly wrote a letter to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), asking the agency to reconsider the 4.36% behavioral adjustment baked into the Patient-Driven Groupings Model (PDGM).
The senator has been arguing against that particular aspect of PDGM since March 2019.
“What CMS is doing is making an assumption that is very unfair,” Collins told Home Health Care News at the time. “It’s making an assumption that most home health care providers are being overpaid. I just don’t believe that is the case. If there are some bad apples out there who are charging excessively, doing unnecessary visits or otherwise ripping off the Medicare program, then the answer to that is to bar those particular providers from participating in the Medicare program.”
Sen. Shaheen has similarly been a big supporter of home health care in Congress. The New Hampshire Democrat likewise has voiced support for revising PDGM’s built-in behavioral adjustment.
Reinstating a 2% across-the-board cut to home health agencies and other Medicare providers would jeopardize their ability to deliver care on the front lines, especially as they continue to incur “significant expenses,” Shaheen noted in a statement.
“These providers are relying on federal funding like Medicare reimbursement payments to help grapple with the overwhelming health and financial challenges created by this pandemic,” she said. “For many providers, the looming Medicare payment cuts would pose a further threat to their ability to stay afloat and serve communities during a time when they are most needed.”
Medicare sequestration is currently slated to restart at the beginning of April.
Early on in 2021, Medicare-reimbursed health care organizations had hoped an extension to the pause would be included in the $1.9 trillion American Rescue plan. The giant stimulus package was signed into law last week without an extension, however.
The Medicare Sequester Relief Act would keep a pause in place through the public health emergency, which is expected to last through the end of this year. Additionally, the bill proposes to pay for the continued pause by adding an additional year to the overall sequestration timeline, ending the mechanism in 2031 instead of 2030.
“I urge the Senate to act at once to protect our health care providers and ensure they can continue their work on the front lines of COVID-19,” Shaheen said.
The House is also set to consider legislation related to sequestration this week.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) announced legislation aimed at stopping automatic cuts to Medicare and other programs last Thursday.