By Kristin Rowan, Editor

In December, 2023, The Medicare Payment Advisory Committee (MedPAC) recommended a 22% payment reduction for hospice providers. This week, they’ve recommended additional cuts once again. 

MedPAC has just released the March, 2024 Medicare Payment Policy Report, issued to Congress. The initial statement from MedPAC recognized the long-lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare providers and the record inflation rates. The commission admits that the pandemic has caused burnout and personal risk to clinicians and other health care workers. The commission also admits that the effects of COVID-19, PHE-related policy changes, and emergency funding made it difficult to interpret the indicators of adequacy in Medicare’s payment rates. 

The commission openly states that the fundamental problem with FFS Medicare payments is that providers are paid more when they deliver more services, whether or not those services provide value. The call for additional payment reforms to force providers to coordinate care over time and across care settings and to eliminate what may be necessary services that MedPAC doesn’t deem valuable.

Home Health Agencies

The commission reports the Medicare margins for HHAs at 22.2 percent in 2022. The commission calculates these margins excluding some fixed costs. The margins, according to the commission, indicate that FFS Medicare payments exceed the costs of care. This should incentivize HHAs to take on additional beneficiaries, as the margins are calculating using only costs that diminish by volume. 

The commission notes a drop in HHA use in 2022 and lists possible causes including:

  • The number of FFS Medicare beneficiaries is lower due to the increased enrollment in Medicare Advantage
  • Lower use of inpatient hospital care among FFS beneficiaries
  • Hospitalized FFS beneficiaries were less likely to be discharged to home health care (no reason for this was given)
  • More FFA beneficiaries are using SNFs after hospitalization (no reason for this was given)
  • The staffing shortages reported by HHAs limit the volume of services they can provide

The commission implies that the staffing shortages are not a factor in the decline in HHA usage. The Department of Commerce’s employment data indicates staffing levels that are currently higher than pre-pandemic levels. Even though the data includes HHAs, hospice, private duty, pediatric agencies, and other home care providers, the commission still contends that Medicare HHAs comprise a significant enough share of this group to conclude there is no staffing shortage nationwide.

The commission also reports that the decrease in the number of HHAs nationwide is not a factor in the decline of HHA usage, because most beneficiaries still live in an area with at least on HHA. The commission recognizes that the number of employees and contract laborers is not used to calculate access to care, even though it is a factor. They also admit that an HHA does not need to serve an entire area to be counted as serving the area, and that the capacity to serve additional beneficiaries is not considered.

The report recognizes that preventable readmissions to hospitals is lower among for-profit and free-standing HHAs than for hospital-based care. However, the commission dismisses this data in favor of the all-cause measure of hospitalization, which is much higher for HHAs. This measure covers 60 days and includes all hospitalizations for any cause and includes community-admitted and home health admitted patients. Essentially, MedPAC is assigning a 14.2 percent hospitalization rate to all home health patients, regardless of the cause of hospitalization, whether or not it is deemed preventable, and whether or not it is in any way related to the initial 30-day-period of post acute care.

The average cost of a 30-day period increased by 4 percent in 2022, due to a higher cost per visit. The HHAs are combatting this by reducing the number of in-person visits per 30-day period. Since MedPAC did not track telehealth visits, there is no data on the overall cost per visit, regardless of whether it was in person or remote. HHAs are working within the PDGM model for reimbursement by lowering their overall costs per 30-day period through telehealth visits, remote patient monitoring, and other technologies implemented to increase efficiency in HHAs. MedPAC wants to penalize this by reducing payment rates. This will only serve to push HHAs to further decrease the number of visits, which will impact quality of care, satisfactions rates, and rehospitalization rates.

The commission concludes that because the payments exceed the costs, the benefits of home health care are devalued as a substitute for more costly care options. MedPAC argues that the overpayment since 2000 creates higher expenditures for beneficiaries, but fails to provide data to this effect.

As noted by NAHC, there are flaws in MedPACs calculations as well as in the foundation of their position:

  • Exclusions such as taxes, telehealth, and marketing in cost calculations incorrectly inflate the margins
  • MedPAC relies heavily on the CMS calculations for budget-neutrality, which NAHC has already refuted as incorrect, bordering illegal formulas
  • The data used in these calculations omitted all HHAs that are hospital-based.

NAHC, along with other agencies, will continue to advocate on behalf of HHAs, hospice providers, and other home-based care agencies in front of Congress to ensure these disastrous cuts will not become permanent inclusions in Medicare policy. We will continue to bring you updates as this issue continues to unfold.

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Kristin Rowan

Kristin Rowan has been working at Healthcare at Home: The Rowan Report since 2008. She has a master’s degree in business administration and marketing and runs Girard Marketing Group, a multi-faceted boutique marketing firm specializing in event planning, sales, and marketing strategy. She has recently taken on the role of Editor of The Rowan Report and will add her voice to current Home Care topics as well as marketing tips for home care agencies. Connect with Kristin directly or

©2024 by The Rowan Report, Peoria, AZ. All rights reserved. This article originally appeared in Healthcare at Home: The Rowan One copy may be printed for personal use: further reproduction by permission only.