MEDICARE: HCFA Issues Warning To Home Care Agencies
"Home health care agencies must stop scaring home-bound seniors about losing Medicare benefits or risk investigation and possible expulsion from the ... program," USA Todayreports. According to Health Care Financing Administration head Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, many Medicare recipients who use the home health benefit "have received letters from their home health care providers warning of benefit cuts" (Wheeler, 2/4). In response, DeParle sent a letter Tuesday to home health agencies emphasizing that the new budget constraints "should not result in the loss of necessary care for home-bound Medicare beneficiaries" (AP/Chicago Tribune, 2/4). "Advocates for the elderly ... said they are getting dozens of calls a week from senior citizens whose home care has been reduced or ended," the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
While Medicare's eligibility rules did not change under last year's balanced budget agreement, home care agencies are now subject to annual limits rather than being paid per visit with no restrictions. As a result, many home care providers have complained that the new system leaves them "holding the bag for people with chronic illness who generate bills far above average." The AP/Inquirer reports that "even nonprofit home health agencies" suggest that it may be difficult to provide adequate care to many patients with chronic conditions under the new system. Richard Wusthoff, president of Somerset Valley Visiting Nurses Association in New Jersey, said, "We won't be turning down a patient. Our mission is to serve patients even if they don't have the ability to pay. But how long can you continue that at a loss?" DeParle, however, said she believes the system is fair to the providers. "We believe all Medicare enrollees can be safely and effectively cared for under this payment system by ... (agencies) that deliver quality care efficiently" (Love, 2/4).