Democrats Introduce Legislation to Invest in HCBS, Increase Worker Pay

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate unveiled legislation, the Better Care Better Jobs Act,  yesterday to implement the Biden administration’s goal of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on home-based care in the coming years. The legislation would give states far more money to invest in and expand home-and-community-based care programs. States…

Democrats Introduce Legislation to Invest in HCBS, Increase Worker Pay

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate unveiled legislation, the Better Care Better Jobs Act,  yesterday to implement the Biden administration’s goal of spending hundreds of billions of dollars on home-based care in the coming years.

The legislation would give states far more money to invest in and expand home-and-community-based care programs. States would be given $100 million, by no later than one calendar year after enactment of the legislation, to create plans to expand access to Medicaid HCBS and “strengthen” the HCBS workforce.

Over 3.5 million older adults and people with disabilities are currently receiving HCBS.

The bills would “strengthen and expand access to HCBS” by expanding financial eligibility criteria for HCBS to federal limits; requiring coverage for personal care services; expanding supports for family caregivers; adopting programs that help people navigate enrollment and eligibility; expanding access to behavioral health care; improving coordination with housing, transportation, and employment supports; and developing or improving programs to allow working people with
disabilities to access HCBS.

In addition, the bills would “strengthen and expand the HCBS workforce” by addressing HCBS payment rates to promote
recruitment and retention of direct care workers; regularly updating HCBS payment rates with public input; passing rate increases through to direct care workers to increase wages; and updating and developing training opportunities for this workforce as well as family caregivers.

The legislation would permanently authorize protections against impoverishment for individuals whose spouses are receiving Medicaid HCBS and make the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration permanent.

Under the terms of the legislation, states would become eligible for permanent increases to their Medicaid match funds of 10 percentage points, an expansion of the temporary boost provided in the American Rescue Plan. Eligibility could require states to expand HCBS access, help people utilize long-term care options, and provide additional support to family caregivers.

In addition, states would need “to promote recruitment and retention of direct care workers” by “regularly updating HCBS payment rates with public input.” The goal would be to increase compensation and training for workers to better attract and retain a stable direct care workforce.

Regular reporting by states would be required to demonstrate the legislative goals are being met. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) would receive additional funding for oversight.

The legislation is sponsored by Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Ron Wyden of Oregon, as well as Debbie Dingell of Michigan; all Democrats and all long-time friends of the home care and hospice community.

Interestingly, the same day the Better Care Better Jobs bills were introduced, President Biden and a bipartisan group of legislators announced a compromise agreement to spend almost $580 billion in new money on the country’s creaky infrastructure. That agreement did not include any funding for long-term care, though President Biden originally called for $400 billion in new spending to be part of the country’s infrastructure investment. Republicans balked at that, saying infrastructure does not include long-term care investments.

With this legislation not included in the bipartisan infrastructure agreement and extremely unlikely to attract support from enough Republicans to pass the Senate, the terms of the Better Care Better Jobs Act could be made into law through the reconciliation process. Many Democrats have signaled determination to use reconciliation to pass elements of Biden’s infrastructure agenda that are not included in the bipartisan agreement reached on Thursday, June 24.

CMS to Bolster Payments for At-Home COVID-19 Vaccinations for Medicare Beneficiaries

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced an additional payment amount for administering in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to Medicare beneficiaries who have difficulty leaving their homes or are otherwise hard-to-reach.

There are approximately 1.6 million adults 65 or older who may have trouble accessing COVID-19 vaccinations because they have difficulty leaving home.

To better serve Medicare beneficiaries who have great difficulty leaving their homes or face a taxing effort getting around their communities easily to access vaccination in these settings, Medicare will pay an additional $35 per dose for COVID-19 vaccine administration in a beneficiary’s home, increasing the total payment amount for at-home vaccination from approximately $40 to approximately $75 per vaccine dose. For a two-dose vaccine, this results in a total payment of approximately $150 for the administration of both doses, or approximately $70 more than the current rate.

“This is a very positive step forward. We thank the White House and CMS for the productive discussions on vaccinating homebound patients in the past few weeks,” said NAHC President Bill Dombi, in reaction to the news. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with them in getting vaccines to a very vulnerable group of individuals who cannot otherwise secure the life-saving Covid vaccines.”

Said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-Lasure: “CMS is committed to meeting the unique needs of Medicare consumers and their communities – particularly those who are home bound or who have trouble getting to a vaccination site. That’s why we’re acting today to expand the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine to people with Medicare  at home. We’re committed to taking action wherever barriers exist and bringing the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic to the door of older adults and other individuals covered by Medicare who still need protection.”

Delivering COVID-19 vaccination to access-challenged and hard-to-reach individuals poses some unique challenges, such as ensuring appropriate vaccine storage temperatures, handling, and administration. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has outlined guidance to assist vaccinators in overcoming these challenges. Today’s announcement now helps to address the financial burden associated with accommodating these complications.

The additional payment amount also accounts for the clinical time needed to monitor a beneficiary after the vaccine is administered, as well as the upfront costs associated with administering the vaccine safely and appropriately in a beneficiary’s home. The payment rate for administering each dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the additional in-home payment amount, will be geographically adjusted based on where the service is furnished.

How to Find a COVID-19 Vaccine

As today’s action demonstrates, a person’s ability to leave their home should not be an obstacle to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. As states and the federal government continue to break down barriers – like where vaccines can be administered – resources for connecting communities to vaccination options remain key. Unvaccinated individuals and those looking to assist friends and family can:

  1. Visit vaccines.gov (English) or vacunas.gov (Spanish) to search for vaccines nearby.
  2. Text GETVAX (438829) for English or VACUNA (822862) for Spanish for near-instant access to details on three vaccine sites in the local area.
  3. Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline at 1-800-232-0233 (TTY: 1-888-720-7489) for assistance in English and Spanish.

Coverage of COVID-19 Vaccines

The federal government is providing the COVID-19 vaccine free of charge or with no cost-sharing for all people living in the United States. As a condition of receiving free COVID-19 vaccines from the federal government, vaccine providers cannot charge patients any amount for administering the vaccine.

Because no patient can be billed for COVID-19 vaccinations, CMS and its partners have provided a variety of information online for providers vaccinating all Americans regardless of their insurance status:

  • Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage: Beneficiaries with Medicare pay nothing for COVID-19 vaccines or their administration, and there is no applicable copayment, coinsurance or deductible.
  • Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP):State Medicaid and CHIP agencies must cover COVID-19 vaccine administration with no cost sharing for nearly all beneficiaries during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) and for over a year after it ends. For the very limited number of Medicaid beneficiaries who are not eligible for this coverage (and do not receive it through other coverage they might have), providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to underinsured individuals through the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), as discussed below. Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), signed by President Biden on March 11, 2021, the federal matching percentage for state Medicaid and CHIP expenditures on COVID-19 vaccine administration is currently 100% (as of April 1, 2021), and will remain 100% for more than a year after the COVID-19 PHE ends. The ARP also expands coverage of COVID-19 vaccine administration under Medicaid and CHIP to additional eligibility groups. CMS recently updated the Medicaid vaccine toolkit to reflect the enactment of the ARP at https://www.medicaid.gov/state-resource-center/downloads/covid-19-vaccine-toolkit.pdf.
  • Private Plans: The vaccine is free for people enrolled in private health plans and issuers COVID-19 vaccine and its administration is covered without cost sharing for most enrollees, and such coverage must be provided both in-network and out-of-network during the PHE. Current regulations provide that out-of-network rates must be reasonable as compared to prevailing market rates, and the rules reference using the Medicare payment rates as a potential guideline for insurance companies. In light of CMS’s increased Medicare payment rates, CMS will expect health insurance issuers and group health plans to continue to ensure their rates are reasonable when compared to prevailing market rates. Under the conditions of participation in the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program, providers cannot charge plan enrollees any administration fee or cost sharing, regardless of whether the COVID-19 vaccine is administered in-network or out-of-network.

The federal government is providing free access to COVID-19 vaccines for every adult living in the United States. For individuals who are underinsured, providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine through the COVID-19 Coverage Assistance Fund administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) after the claim to the individual’s health plan for payment has been denied or only partially paid. Information is available at https://www.hrsa.gov/covid19-coverage-assistance.

For individuals who are uninsured, providers may submit claims for reimbursement for administering the COVID-19 vaccine to individuals without insurance through the Provider Relief Fund, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Information on the COVID-19 Claims Reimbursement to Health Care Providers and Facilities for Testing, Treatment, and Vaccine Administration for the Uninsured Program is available at https://www.hrsa.gov/CovidUninsuredClaim.

More information on Medicare payment for COVID-19 vaccine administration – including a list of billing codes, payment allowances and effective dates – is available at https://www.cms.gov/medicare/covid-19/medicare-covid-19-vaccine-shot-payment.

More information regarding the CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Requirements and how the COVID-19 vaccine is provided through that program at no cost to recipients is available at https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/vaccination-provider-support.html.

CMS to Bolster Payments for At-Home COVID-19 Vaccinations for Medicare Beneficiaries

CMS to hold special ODF on at-home COVID-19 Vaccinations for Medicare Beneficiaries. See below for more details The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) today announced an additional payment amount for administering in-home COVID-19 vaccinations to Medicare beneficiaries who have difficulty leaving their homes or are otherwise hard-to-reach. There are approximately 1.6 million adults…

Your Feedback Needed Now! Distribution of COVID Vaccine to Homebound Patients

Please take the survey now! The home care and hospice community has an exciting opportunity to work with the White House to help establish a nationwide program to provide vaccinations to homebound patients. White House officials have asked the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC) to gather information about the extent to which…

Why Joe Biden’s Economic Plan Includes Home Health Care, Not Just Roads And Bridges

Building roads and bridges is good for the economy, pretty much everybody agrees. But helping senior citizens stay out of nursing homes? Raising pay for child care workers?

President Joe Biden says those sorts of initiatives can help, too. And he’s got a strong case.

Ever since the 2020 presidential campaign, Biden has talked about having the government spend a lot more on caregiving ― for children, older adults and disabled people. And although the proposals themselves were mostly variations on ideas like universal child care that Democrats have proposed before, Biden pointedly included them as part of his economic agenda, arguing they would create better, higher-paying jobs and unleash untapped potential for growth.

Now Biden is president, and his approach hasn’t changed. On Wednesday, he introduced the first half of what he has called his “Build Back Better” agenda. And although he proposed big new spending on traditional infrastructure projects like bridges and waterways, he also proposed a dramatic increase in federal support for “home- and community- based services.”

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OSHA’s Virus Protection Program Could Put Home Health Agencies Under the Microscope

In response to an executive order from President Joe Biden, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has launched a national emphasis program aimed at protecting workers from COVID-19 while on the job.

OSHA, part of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), is responsible for assuring “safe and healthy working conditions” for most workers in the U.S..

READ @ HOME HEALTH CARE NEWS

Biden Admin Taps Obama Veteran Liz Fowler to Run CMMI

The Biden administration has announced the appointment of Liz Fowler to serve as administrator of the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI), a part of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The position of CMMI Administrator does not require Senate approval. Roughly 600 employees work at CMMI. Like many Biden appointees, Fowler is…

Biden Orders Review of Trump Admin Public Charge Rule

President Biden announced on Tueday, February 2, an executive order directing federal agencies to review the previous administration’s immigration policies, including the public charge rule, which was initially proposed by the Trump administration in September 2018 and finalized it August of 2019.

Under the public charge rule the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded what criteria it considered to be a public charge when evaluating an immigrant’s application for citizenship. Under the previous standard applicants could be denied if they were expected to be “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. In expanding the criteria, DHS specified a list of prior usage of common government benefits to be taken into account for evaluation, including: temporary assistance for needy families (TANF), section 8 housing, federal housing subsidies, and certain Medicaid benefits. In addition, DHS would evaluate an applicant’s likelihood of need of public assistance in the future. These points of criteria include age, health, family size, and financial means.

This rule proved to be controversial since its proposal with many labeling it a “wealth test” for immigrants, and as a means to limit immigrants to the United States. The rule was challenged in court, eventually rising to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in favor of allowing the regulation to be implemented. However, in August 2020 a federal court issued a temporary injunction that in-effect blocked implementation of the public charge regulation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the injunction, as long as there is a public health emergency related to the pandemic, the regulation was barred from application, implementation, and enforcement. (See NAHC Report for more information.)

The public health emergency remains in effect, having been renewed most recently in January 2021.  

The National Association for Home Care and Hospice filed comments with DHS on the proposal expressing concerns that the rule could prove damaging to the home care and hospice providers that often rely on immigrants to work as caregivers, an occupation notoriously facing workforce shortages. It is estimated that about 30 percent of the home care workforce is comprised of people born outside the United States.

“This proposal will result in fewer eligible home care workers, as immigrants tend to serve as a sizable proportion of the personal care and assistance aides workforce,” writes NAHC in its comments on the proposed rule. “These workers often qualify for public assistance through programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The typical annual income for these non-skilled workers falls below the guidelines for a two-member household as included in the proposed rule, and their eligibility for public assistance will also be counted as negative factors in determinations. Barring Immigrants on the basis of public assistance will only exacerbate an already prevalent workforce shortage leaving many employers unable to care for patients in need. This will cause patients to seek out more costly institutional settings for the same care they could have received in their home.”

“A reversal of this policy by the Biden Administration should help increase the home and community-based services workforce at a time when home care demand is rising,” said NAHC President Bill Dombi, in reaction to the news.

According to the best estimates, about 30 percent of the home care workforce is comprised of people born outside the United States, about evenly split between naturalized American citizens and non-citizen immigrants. “This is a strong indication that immigrants will play an important role in addressing the substantial workforce challenges home care will face in the coming years. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home care workers rank in the top five fastest growing occupations. By 2026 the demand for home care workers is projected to increase by over one million.”

Due to low reimbursement rates offered by government programs like Medicaid or the Veterans Administration, compensation for home care workers is limited and a majority of them qualify for some form of public assistance. (About 30 percent qualify for SNAP and 30 percent qualify for Medicaid.)

The Biden executive order also rescinds a memorandum requiring family sponsors to repay the government if relatives receive public benefits. The order requires agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom review of recent regulations, policies, and guidance that have set up barriers to our legal immigration system.

Biden Orders Review of Trump admin Public Charge Rule

President Biden announced on Tueday, February 2, an executive order directing federal agencies to review the previous administration’s immigration policies, including the public charge rule, which was initially proposed by the Trump administration in September 2018 and finalized it August of 2019. Under the public charge rule the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded what criteria it considered to…