HOME HEALTH: Bipartisan Bill Would Reduce Year 2000 Cuts
A bipartisan coalition of 15 senators unveiled "The Medicare Home Health Equity Act of 1999" yesterday, which seeks to "cancel a potential 15% fee cut scheduled for Oct. 2000," Congress Daily/A.M. reports. Sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Christopher Bond (R-MO), the bill's cost is estimated at $10 billion, which is far below the expected $48 billion in home health savings reaped by the Balanced Budget Act. Val Halamandaris of the National Association for Home Care noted, "One-third of home health agencies operating in 1997 aren't in business anymore. The devastation caused to the home health industry is real." However, because home health agencies have been the first to benefit from recent funding restorations, Ways and Means health subcommittee Chair Bill Thomas (R-CA) said "home health providers are not at the top of his list" (Rovner, 7/1). The bill, which follows a Senate review of problems facing the Medicare home health program, includes the following additional provisions:
- Increased payments under the interim payment system for agencies serving high-cost patients.
- Increased per visit reimbursements to 108% of the median.
- Increased per beneficiary reimbursement limits for agencies with limits below the national average.
- A 36-month, interest-free repayment period for recovery of overpayments.
- Termination of the requirement that home health agencies track visit lengths in 15-minute increments.
- Requirement that surety bonds be used only to protect against fraudulent claims, not overpayments.
- Extensions of the periodic interim payment program for 12 months following the implementation of a prospective payment system (National Association for Home Care release, 6/30).