Congress is facing a packed few weeks in the lead-up to the monthslong August recess. The potential revival of a slimmed-down reconciliation package sought by Senate Democrats remains top-of-mind for many DC watchers. While nothing is concrete at this point, it unfortunately appears likely that any smaller party-line reconciliation bill will omit major funding investments in Medicaid home-and-community-based services (HCBS). Last year’s House-passed Build Back Better Act included $150 billion for HCBS, seen as a transformative injection of resources that would increase access and better support the frontline home care workforce.
NAHC continues to work with other diverse coalitions to push for the inclusion of HCBS funding in any emerging deal.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the House Appropriations committee recently approved a number of FY2023 government funding bills, including the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) package that contains discretionary spending for federal health programs. While it is certain that future Senate-side bipartisan negotiations will ensure any final government funding package that will ultimately become law will differ from what the House Appropriations committee has cleared, it is still instructive to keep track of the Democrat-led House deal, as it provides insight into that group’s policy priorities. A few provisions relevant to home-based care providers, detailed in the bill’s accompany report, include the following (note -many of these are merely signaling in nature, as opposed to explicitly directive):
- Medicare Coverage of Home-based Extended Care Services.—The Committee encourages CMS to consider options to improve extended care services for Medicare beneficiaries, such as through home-based extended care by home health agencies (bottom of pg 184)
- Patient Access to Home Health Care.—The Committee supports the intent of the network adequacy rules of CMS for Medicare Advantage organizations and for Medicaid managed care organizations under 42 C.F.R. 438 and 457 to maintain a network of qualified providers sufficient to provide adequate access for covered services to meet the health care needs of the patient population served. The Committee requests a report within 180 days of the date of enactment of this Act on regulatory actions related to network adequacy (bottom of pg. 186)
- Home Health Aides.—The Committee recognizes that home health aides (HHAs) are the foundation of professional home-based caregiving, and that the growing population of disabled, chronically ill, and elderly Americans receiving home-based care requires a skilled and highly trained HHA workforce prepared to manage complex care needs. The Committee encourages HHS to explore how HHAs are meeting clinical competencies necessary to provide high-quality home-based care (pg. 221)
- Direct Care Workforce Demonstration.—The Committee provides $3,000,000 for a Direct Care Workforce Demonstration project, to reduce barriers to entry for a diverse and high-quality direct care workforce, including providing wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities needed to attract or retain direct care workers. (pg. 211)
- Dementia Care Management Model.—The Committee urges the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) consider how best to test a Medicare dementia care management model. The Committee encourages CMMI to continue working with stakeholders to find a way to test a value-based dementia care management model that could reach dementia patients across the stages and include coordinated care management and caregivers. The Committee requests an update not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act on the progress for this model. (pg. 180)
The bill also includes several provisions that would help to increase the health care workforce. Among other things, the bill includes: nearly $2 billion in new money for the Department of Labor, including for apprenticeship programs, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity state grants, and Senior Community Service Employment; $15,6 billion in new money for HHS to enhance nursing workforce development and other health care programs; and enhanced funding for targeted programs of the Administration on Community Living.
The Committee also adopted a manager’s amendment from House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), that added language to the committee report that urges the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to “address the skilled care workforce needs of seniors through existing workforce education and training programs.”
The most hospice and palliative care-specific bills in Congress right now include the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) (S.4260) and the Expanding Access to Palliative Care Act (S. 2565). PCHETA would bolster the serious illness professional workforce and boost palliative and hospice research funding, while S.2565 would require CMMI to test a dedicated community-based palliative care demonstration informed by the recently-ended, hospice-only Medicare Care Choices Model (MCCM). Both bills are currently Senate-only at this point, and we need your continued advocacy and outreach to continue to garner co-sponsors for these important policies. Use NAHC’s grassroots outreach campaigns to ask your Senators to support these bills.
Elsewhere in DC, much of the policy conversation on palliative care in particular is occurring within CMMI. In light of the Innovation Center’s strategic refresh late last year, it has become apparent that leadership there is focused on streamlining their demonstration portfolio and developing ways to better integrate specialty care (which is how they conceptualize palliative care) into broader, population health-style models, primarily the ACO programs.
Recently, CMMI posted a blog that broadly spells out their early vision for this kind of integration. In the piece, they specifically write: “Until more ACOs can assume full risk, collaborative care codes, as currently used in behavioral health, could support integration and co-location of some specialty care, such as palliative care.”
NAHC, in tandem with other members of the National Association of Hospice & Palliative Care, continues to work with CMMI to explore how best to support and scale home and community-based palliative care.