Velazquez Introduces the Improving Home Health Services Act
Washington, DC - Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) introduced H.R. 7006, new legislation that would enable Home Health Care Agencies to attend to their patients, rather than paperwork during the coronavirus pandemic. In order to commence care with new patients and be reimbursed by Medicare, home health agencies generally need a written referral from a doctor. Home health agencies have encountered numerous difficulties obtaining referrals from physicians, as many of physicians’ offices are closed due to COVID-19.
The “Improving Home Health Services Act,” would temporarily modify the in person face-to-face Medicare referral requirement for Home Health Agencies to be reimbursed for services. The bill would permit Medicare billings based on verbal orders and certifications, minimizing the risk of virus transmission as in-person interactions are necessitated to achieve this administrative requirement.
“Patients served by Home Health Care tend to fall into the category of ‘at risk’ individuals who may be especially susceptible to severe health effects from COVID-19,” said Velázquez. “Now, more than ever, we need to serve these vulnerable members of our community. We must ensure that they have access to necessary healthcare in their home to further reduce risk of transmission. This bill will help more patients receive health care services in their home without interruption. Importantly, home health professionals should not needlessly be exposed to the virus.”
Home Health Care agencies provide critical medical support and service to individuals who are unable to leave their house to attend an in-person consultation. There are over 12,000 agencies within the United States, serving a total of 4.5 million people as of 2019. These agencies serve the elderly, immunocompromised, and those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. In addition, some provide hospice and palliative care.
“Home healthcare providers distribute critical services to vulnerable patient populations,” said Velázquez. “Even under normal circumstances, it can be difficult for home health agencies to obtain a signature from an ordering physician or non-physician practitioner. As the pandemic has taken hold of our healthcare system, the challenge of obtaining a signature has increased tenfold. Doctors and clinics alike have closed their offices in order to minimize in-person interaction. If we want to ensure that these patients have ready access to the means to stay healthy within their own homes, we have to change the ways by which this care is authorized.”
Numerous officials in the home healthcare industry came forward to share their experiences and support the bill.
“The Improving Home Health Service Act supports home health agencies and physicians by enabling both to maximize direct service to patients instead of time spent on paperwork exchanges between them,” said Home Care Association of New York State President Al Cardillo. “This legislation will help avoid Medicare payment delays for in-home services provided to beneficiaries at a time when New York’s home health agencies are already reeling financially as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We applaud Congresswoman Velázquez for her support.”
“The Visiting Nurse Service of New York has provided care to over 2,000 COVID positive individuals and is playing an essential role by caring for patients in their homes so hospitals and nursing homes can be preserved for those who need them most,” said VNSNY President and CEO Marki Flannery. “The requirement that home health agencies obtain signed documents from ordering clinicians who are largely unavailable, seriously hampers our ability to get reimbursed for the expert care we are providing. VNSNY applauds Rep. Velázquez and the other co-sponsors for their leadership in proposing a rational solution – allowing home health agencies to obtain documented verbal orders for reimbursement – which will allow us to focus on our patients, while preserving the integrity of the Medicare home health program.”
“With the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 virus, this bill will optimize care delivery and ensure home health patients can receive the care they need when they need it, and not be held up by administrative paperwork requirements. We fully support this effort by Chairwoman Velazquez to minimize unnecessary in-person interactions and speed the delivery of home health care,” said Bill Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.
The Improving Home Health Services Act is currently cosponsored by Reps.: Terri A. Sewell, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jerry Nadler, Yvette Clarke, José E. Serrano, James P. McGovern, Adriano Espaillat, Grace Meng, Peter Welch, Max Rose and Michael F.Q. San Nicolas. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means.