Home Health Care Patients With Chronic Conditions Are Having Trouble Getting Medicare

Medicare is supposed to provide up to 35 hours a week of home care to those who qualify, but many Medicare patients with chronic conditions are being wrongly denied such care, according to Kaiser Health News. For a variety of reasons, many home health care agencies are simply telling patients they are not covered.

Medicare is mandated to cover home health benefits indefinitely. In addition, Medicare is required to cover skilled nursing and home care even if a patient has a chronic condition. Unfortunately, many home health providers are not aware of the law and tell home health care patients that they must show improvement in order to receive benefits.

According to a Kaiser Health News article, confusion over whether or not improvement is required (it is not) is one part of the problem. Another issue is that home health care workers are afraid they will not get paid if they take on long-term care patients. In an effort to crack down on fraud, Medicare is more likely to audit providers who provide long-term care. This encourages providers to favor patients who need short-term care.

If you are a Medicare beneficiary receiving skilled care for a chronic condition, you no longer have to show improvement in order to have the care covered, but your provider (such as a doctor, home care agency, or nursing home) may not know this. Even though a recent lawsuit settlement mandated a nationwide educational campaign for providers, many are still refusing to provide needed treatment, claiming that Medicare will not cover it.

For about 30 years, home health agencies and nursing homes that contract with Medicare have routinely terminated the Medicare coverage of a beneficiary who has stopped improving, even though nothing in the Medicare statute or its regulations says improvement is required for continued skilled care. Under a settlement agreement in Jimmo v. Sebelius,  the federal government agreed to update Medicare rules to require that Medicare cover skilled care as long as the beneficiary needs skilled care, even if it would simply maintain the beneficiary’s current condition or slow further deterioration.

The policy shift affects beneficiaries with conditions like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, heart disease, and stroke. In addition, under the settlement Medicare beneficiaries who received a final denial of Medicare coverage after January 18, 2011 (the date the lawsuit was filed) are entitled to a review of their claim denial.

In addition, Medicare’s Home Health Compare ratings website may be having a negative effect on home health care agencies’ willingness to provide for long-term care patients. One measure of care qualification is whether a patient is improving. Because patients with chronic conditions don’t necessarily improve, they could lower an agency’s rating. Also, under a rule that just went into effect, home health care agencies cannot dismiss a patient without a doctor’s note. This may make agencies even more reluctant to take on long-term care patients.

The government launched an educational campaign in January 2018 to explain the settlement and the new rules to Medicare providers like home care agencies and nursing homes, but according to a Reuters article, many providers remain unaware of what is covered or how to bill Medicare for the services. The campaign was not aimed at beneficiaries, so not all Medicare beneficiaries are aware of the rules and that they can fight a denial of coverage.

Reuters focuses on one beneficiary, Robert Kleiber, 78, who receives weekly visits from a physical therapist to alleviate symptoms of his Parkinson’s disease. Kleiber’s wife recently learned that the treatments should be covered under Medicare’s new rules but so far she has been unable to convince the home health care provider of this.

If you experience problems with a Medicare provider, the Center for Medicare Advocacy has several self-help packets explaining how to appeal improvement standard denials.

For the Reuters article, click here.

 

Randy Coleman