In the News

Lawmakers Back Home Health Providers, Condemn Payment Cuts In Symbolic Subcommittee Hearing

Home Health Care News / By Andrew Donlan
The Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Health Care held a hearing Thursday regarding aging in place and access to home health care in the U.S.

While current struggles were highlighted throughout, the hearing was ultimately a symbolic win for home health providers across the country.

Lawmakers came across as more educated on home health care – and the issues the sector faces – than ever. They also, generally, seemed to be unsure why more investment wasn’t being put toward home-based care.

“Because of the lack of a coordinated policy, seniors often end up in a more costly environment, in a less desirable environment, and – I would suggest – a more dangerous environment for their long-term health,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MA), the chair of the subcommittee, said.

Cardin also began the hearing by mentioning there’s a “great deal of interest” from both Democrats and Republicans on the topic of home health care.

The hearing was “very well attended,” according to Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare CEO Joanne Cunningham. 

The chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden, was also there, for instance.

Witnesses for the hearing included: William A. Dombi, the president of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice; Carrie Edwards, the director of home care services at Mary Lanning Healthcare; Judith Stein, the executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy; and David Grabowski, a professor and researcher at Harvard Medical School.

“I think the big message was very clearly that the Senate Finance Committee, on a bipartisan basis, cares a lot about the Medicare home health program, and is concerned about reimbursement cuts and the impact that workforce shortages are having on access to care,” Cunningham told Home Health Care News.

The overarching theme was, of course, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) home health payment cuts.

Witnesses were able to openly discuss the impact that cuts have had up to this point, and the impact further cuts would have in the future.

They were also able to discuss the dangers of skyrocketing referral rejection rates, the impact of further Medicare Advantage (MA) penetration and the issues the provider community takes with Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s (MedPAC) reports on home health care.

“It is overall financial margins that really measure financial stability, not the incomplete analysis presented by MedPAC,” Dombi said during the hearing. “Medicare margins – to the extent they exist – are subsidizing other payers like Medicaid and Medicare Advantage.”

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Free Covid Tests Will Be Offered Again to All U.S. Households

StatNews / By Helen Branswell and Rachel Cohrs

The federal government is again offering free Covid-19 tests to Americans, providing a fifth round of free tests in part to meet current needs, in part to stimulate a domestic testing industry that has struggled with cratering demand for the rapid diagnostics.

The measure, announced Wednesday, will see rapid tests released from the Strategic National Stockpile. In addition, 12 domestic test manufacturers will receive investments totaling $600 million to help “warm-base” the U.S. capacity for rapid test production, both for Covid and future disease threats.

“We will make available some of those tests that we have in our stockpile,” Xavier Becerra, health and human services secretary, said in Washington, “so that Americans can … use those tests during this viral season.”

Earlier in the pandemic, demand for rapid tests was huge. But it has been up and down, based on levels of transmission — and on the intensity of public concern. For instance, some manufacturers scaled back production in 2021, as the national vaccination effort gained ground.

When the massive Omicron wave hit in late 2021 and early 2022, it took weeks to get significant supplies of tests available again, Dawn O’Connell, HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, told STAT in an interview. Since the end of the public health emergency in May, some health insurers have declined to pay for rapid tests, further depressing sales.

The country needs to have ongoing production capacity, based in the U.S., O’Connell said.

“What it does is keep the lines running, so we no longer have that boom and bust [cycle],” she said. “This capability is important now for Covid and we’re using it and exercising it now as we’re heading into the fall and winter season. But it’s going to be critically important for other outbreaks that we’re responding to in the future.”

Households will be entitled to receive four free rapid tests apiece, with ordering at opening on Sept. 25. O’Connell said test shipments are expected to start on Oct. 2.

The money flowing to the 12 domestic producers will require them to keep their production bases warm. O’Connell said that after the winter, when public demand for tests may again shrink, the federal government will receive, as part of the deal, 200 million new Covid tests to replenish the national stockpile.

She encouraged people to order the tests and use them, especially when planning to spend time around people for whom Covid remains a significant health threat.

“We’ve seen each fall and winter season an increase in cases as people move indoors and are seeing their families again and interacting in smaller groups and closer quarters. We wanted to make sure as we head into that season … that we provide an avenue for people to be able to receive these tests for free,” O’Connell said.

“It’s just one of the arrows in our quiver for the fall and winter season and we’re pleased to provide these tools to protect Americans from Covid and keep their family members safe.”


APTA Announces 2023 Honors and Awards Program Recipients

APTA's Honors and Awards program celebrates outstanding achievements on the part of association members in the areas of overall accomplishment, education, practice and service, publications, research, and academic excellence. APTA has announced the 2023 Honors and Awards Program recipients, and it is our pleasure to announce that the following members from APTA Home Health have been selected to receive the following awards:

Lucy Blair Service Award - (Practice & Service Award) The Lucy Blair Service Award honors physical therapist members or physical therapist life members whose contributions to APTA are of exceptional quality. Qualifying contributions can pertain to association components, through work on appointed or elected positions, and/or in other capacities at the association and component levels.

  • Eva Norman, PT, DPT

State Legislative Leadership Award - This award recognizes and rewards component leaders in the area of state legislative leadership who bring increased awareness and involvement to state legislative issues and who achieve success in state legislative issues that strengthen the practice of physical therapy.

  • Michael R. Riley, PT

In conjunction with the 2024 APTA Leadership Congress, award recipients will be recognized next year at the APTA Honors & Awards ceremony on Sunday, July 21, in Kansas City, Missouri. A reception hosted by the PT Fund will take place that afternoon, with the ceremony immediately following the 29th John H.P. Maley Lecture, scheduled to begin at 7:00 pm. 


Who Should Get a COVID Vaccine This Year?

Reuters | By Michael Erman

(Reuters) - The U.S. drug regulator authorized updated COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech as well as from Moderna on Monday as the country prepares to start an autumn vaccination campaign as soon as this week. A third vaccine from Novavax remains under review.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the shots for those aged 12 and above, and authorized them for emergency use in children aged 6 months through 11 years. Advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are set to meet on Tuesday to discuss recommendations on who should get the vaccines this year. CDC Director Mandy Cohen said last month she expects the shots to be given annually, but not all doctors agree everyone needs them each year.

How is this year's vaccine different from last year?

Pfizer with BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax all have created new versions of their COVID-19 vaccines. Unlike last year's booster shot that included the original strain of the virus and the then-dominant Omicron variant, this year's shot targets only XBB.1.5, the predominant variant through most of 2023.

The companies have said their retooled vaccines have been shown in early testing to work against newer Omicron subvariants now circulating, including the highly mutated BA.2.86.

Should seniors, the immunocompromised and pregnant people get the shot this year?

There is broad consensus among doctors that these groups should receive at least an annual COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the virus because of their elevated risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. For instance, the British government's vaccine committee said only adults 65 and older and some of these other categories will be offered the shot as they are the most likely to benefit…

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HHS Announces Stronger Protections for Those with Disabilities

Home Care Insider

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has issued a proposed rule that would update, clarify, and strengthen the statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance or are conducted by a Federal agency.

The proposed rule provides greater protections for people with disabilities in federally funded health and human services programs and helps ensure that people with disabilities are not subjected to discrimination in any program or activity receiving funding from HHS simply because they have a disability.

Specifically, the proposed rule:

  • Ensures that medical treatment decisions are not based on biases or stereotypes about individuals with disabilities, judgments that an individual will be a burden on others or beliefs that the life of an individual with a disability has less value than the life of a person without a disability;
  • Clarifies obligations for web, mobile, and kiosk accessibility;
  • Establishes enforceable standards for accessible medical equipment;
  • Clarifies requirements in HHS-funded child welfare programs and activities;
  • Prohibits the use of value assessment methods that place a lower value on life-extension for individuals with disabilities when that method is used to limit access or to deny aids, benefits, and services; and
  • Clarifies obligations to provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of individuals with disabilities.
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