Health cuts could prove disastrous
From: My San Antonio
Kathleen Weir Vale
As a lifelong provider of home medical equipment and services in the San Antonio area, I recently shared some of my concerns about Medicare with Marjorie McColl Petty, regional director of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Here are the points I made:
For three generations, since 1941, Hope Medical has been serving Texans. Our patients, mostly the elderly, use Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. We employ 49 people in San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
Our healthcare sector, called “durable” or home medical equipment and services (HME), is largely composed of small, independent facilities throughout the country that deliver wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen and other items to patients discharging from the hospital or coming home from a doctor’s visit.
The HME sector arose from the need to shorten expensive hospital stays and get patients back home to recover. Did you know that one day in the hospital costs Medicare more than an entire year of equipment rental for home oxygen therapy? My company and others like it are a low-cost means of preventing far more expensive institutional care by reducing visits to the emergency room and the hospital.
HME is not the culprit behind ballooning healthcare spending. HME spending as a proportion of total healthcare spending has decreased over time.
We understand that the government needs to cut spending in order to reduce the deficit, but HME has already been cut. In the last 5 years alone Medicare has cut HME reimbursement by 27 percent overall. Reimbursement for home oxygen therapy has been cut by roughly two thirds. And, Medicare no longer pays for the equipment needed for home oxygen therapy after three years, even if the patient still needs it.
For months, I have been working on preparing my company’s bid for Round 2 of Medicare’s badly designed “competitive” bidding program, which is now underway in the San Antonio metropolitan area. Hundreds of economists have warned Congress that, as currently designed, this bidding system will fail to live up to its promises.
In fact, it will decimate our sector, dramatically reduce Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care, and cost at least 100,000 jobs. Many small businesses have already closed as a result of Round 1 of the bidding program in nine other areas around the U.S. A vast expansion of the program will be devastating.
We work hard to get patients covered when physicians order wheelchairs, walkers, hospital beds, oxygen, prosthetics, orthotics, and other equipment. These are much needed home healthcare items, and if reimbursement for HME continues to be cut and the HME sector fails, how are patients going to be discharged to their homes? How are they going to stay out of the hospital?
We are asking HHS to take further cuts to HME off the table. We are already struggling with reduced reimbursement. If Medicare’s bidding program continues, estimated job loss is huge. Worse, access to cost-effective care for seniors and people with disabilities is on the line.
Kathleen Weir Vale, CEO, Hope Medical
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