BAYADA’s Government Affairs Office (GAO) staff members often say, “Advocacy never sleeps.” For the GAO federal affairs team—Government Affairs Officer Dave Totaro and Senior Associate Lindsey Wright—we can also say “Advocacy never stays put.” Over the past quarter, GAO has traveled to Washington, D.C. several times, as well as to Massachusetts, Florida, Indiana, Arizona, and Colorado—among other places.
Most often, GAO travels specifically to meet with legislators in D.C. and around the country to educate them about home care and the benefit it has in keeping millions of America’s seniors and individuals with disabilities independent and in their communities. Most recently, the federal affairs team has also taken to visiting BAYADA’s Home Health service offices to get employees involved in advocacy.
In late February, Dave and Lindsey traveled to D.C.’s Capitol Hill to meet with 11 key congressional members and their staff. On April 2, they traveled back to the Capitol along with two Hearts for Home Care Ambassadors—Anthony D’Alonzo (MHH) and David Mead (NLP)—and other GAO staff—to participate in the NationalAssociation for Home Care and Hospice’s (NAHC) annual March on Washington. This year, marchers were asked to educate legislators on two important bills: The Patient Driven Groupings Model bill, which if passed will eliminate reimbursement cuts based on behavioral assumptions, and the Home Health Improvement Planning Act, which if passed will allow non-physician practitioners to sign off on care plans. The visits were successful and resulted in additional cosponsors for both bills.
The two-person federal affairs team can only make so much headway alone. GAO relies on advocates like you to make sure that all legislators hear our messages loud and clear. Dave and Lindsey have begun traveling to Home Health service offices around the country to tell employees what they can do to get themselves and their clients involved in advocacy, and the importance of doing so.
“As much as I travel to spread our message to our country’s decision makers, it’s important that I also use my time to get our staff involved. Home Health employees and clients are affected by what our legislators and regulators in D.C. make decisions on every day. The more our people mobilize and advocate, the more those decision makers will see how their choices affect real people’s lives,” said Dave Totaro.
During their trip to four Home Health service offices across Arizona and Colorado, Dave and Lindsey focused on Medicare policies, current bills, and how employees can get involved to make a difference. They also listened to each office’s unique challenges in delivering care to clients, and how policy changes could alleviate some of those issues. Thank you to the many BAYADA service offices that welcomed GAO with open arms and open minds, as well as to the employees who signed up to become Ambassadors. To learn about ways you, your staff, and your clients can advocate, contact Lindsey Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you!
It’s undisputable: Home health aides provide a lifeline to millions of Americans that need assistance living where they want to be—at home. But low wages often disincentivize home care workers from staying in the field. The problem lies in Medicaid reimbursement rates: Home health aides rely largely on state-determined Medicaid reimbursement rates for their wages, and those rates have stagnated well below the cost of living—and many states have not addressed this in years.
Luckily, many states have proposed increasing the mandatory minimum wage. And while many businesses often oppose such measures—many home care industry leaders have come out in support of it because they recognize the importance of aides in helping keep people at home and earning a fair wage for doing so. But we must ensure that minimum wage increases are done with the recognition that many home care programs rely on state funding to pay their workers. And if that funding isn’t increased in tandem with mandatory minimum wage increases, the state could unintentionally be putting vulnerable residents at risk.
Simply put, if Medicaid reimbursement rates for home care services are not increased at all, or at a rate too low to cover new minimum wage standards, then many home care providers will need to consider whether they can afford to keep their doors open. If providers do decide that they cannot remain sustainable and do decide to forgo providing Medicaid-based home care services, then the real loser is the millions of Americans that rely on that provider to live independently at home. Down the line, this could result in more people who can live at home with help from a home health aide into being forced into nursing homes.
“People want to live at home. And it’s the most cost-effective option for states. Home health aides are the backbone of our industry and we absolutely support wage increases for our workforce, but states need to be thoughtful in their approach to protect the many seniors and individuals with disabilities that rely on home and community-based services. We are working with state legislatures to make sure that they understand the relationship between rates and wages, and the potential risk to vulnerable residents who need home care,” says BAYADA Chief Government Affairs Officer Dave Totaro.
So far this year, 18 states have started the year with higher minimum wages than the year before. If you live in a state where the minimum wage is set to increase, then you have a unique opportunity to advocate and tell your legislators about the importance of home care and of paying home health aides a living wage. Contact email@example.com to find out ways you can play a role in ensuring that home care is accessible to the many that want to stay at home, and that home care workers continue to be attracted to a field that helps them do just that.
Every year, the Government Affairs Office (GAO) travels the state to connect with our service offices about our legislative priorities and the importance of advocacy. Not only do these visits give us the opportunity to share the work we do to improve the state of home health care in New Jersey, but they also give us the unique chance to hear about the challenges you all often face in attempting to deliver the compassionate, excellent, and reliable care that our clients deserve.
Throughout our visits so far, we have been able to celebrate our collective successes and accomplishments. In 2018, our GAO Ambassadors and service office employees attended a number of district office visits and legislative receptions, and participated in phone banks, letter writing campaigns, and action alerts all in support of accomplishing legislative priorities that support our nurses, aides, clients, and families. Without your partnership and collaboration, we would be unable to deliver on our promise to act as the voice for BAYADA and its clients and employees.
In addition to celebrating last year’s successes, we have worked together to identify ongoing challenges and to form our 2019 legislative priorities and strategies. As we’ve formed these priorities, it is clear that our grassroots efforts and your continued commitment to advocacy will be integral to achieving our goals.
Thank you to the many offices who have made the time to meet with us. In 2019, we will continue our outreach effort to accomplish our goal of meeting with 100% of our New Jersey service offices. If you’d like to learn more about our road show, our 2019 legislative priorities, or getting more involved in advocacy at BAYADA, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawmakers returned to Raleigh on January 9 for the 2019-2021 long legislative session. We expect to see some changes in committee assignments and leadership, especially in the House Appropriations for Health & Human Service (HHS), with the election defeat of Chairman Nelson Dollar.
Dollar–the former chairman of the House Appropriation Committee—has transitioned from the public sector to a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of the House Tim Moore. Dollar has been a home care champion for years and was named BAYADA’s Legislator of the Year in 2016 and 2018 for his efforts. He was instrumental in securing much needed Medicaid reimbursement rates increases for nursing and aide services. He has also been instrumental in protecting from elimination the Certificate of Need (CON) process for our Medicare offices. His expertise and knowledge on complex issues at the statehouse will serve North Carolina well. As you may recall, Dollar lost his seat by 884 votes last November to Democrat Julie von Haefen.
While we are sad to see our former Champion lose this leadership position, there are other home care Champions that we anticipate seeing in key roles. We expect to see Representatives Donny Lambeth and Josh Dobson as co-chairs of HHS. Further, we anticipate Senators Ralph Hise and Joyce Krawiec in chair positions serving the Finance and/or Health Committees. All four legislators are well-versed in home care and the challenges our clients and staff regularly face throughout North Carolina due to our collective advocacy efforts. This puts BAYADA in a great position to move forward with our next round of asks.
Our major reimbursement priority this session is to increase the Medicaid private duty nursing (PDN) rate from $39.60 to $45.00 over the course of two years. This increase is necessary to help us recruit and retain the high quality, compassionate nurses we need to care for the many North Carolinians that need skilled care to stay at home.
Sharing your voice is key to achieving our goals: Be sure to look for opportunities to advocate as we seek to support our clients and staff. Of note, please save the date and be sure to look out for communications regarding our Legislative Day, which will be held in Raleigh on May 1.
CMS recently finalized calendar year 2019 and 2020 payment changes for home health agencies. The new payment model, also known as the Patient Driven Groupings Model (PDGM), was finalized on October 31, 2018. There is some good news: We will see Medicare payments increase by 2.2%–or $420 million–based on finalized policies this year. The reimbursement rate increase is the first the home health industry has received in a decade. Unfortunately, the final rule addresses that home health will see a decrease of payments by 6.42% based on the use of “behavioral assumptions” which will take effect January 2020.
Luckily Congress is working with the industry and has introduced corrective legislation into the House and Senate that counteracts this measure. Several of our legislative champions, including Vern Buchanan (R-FL), sponsored one of the three bills introduced, each of which would serve to counteract the “behavioral assumptions” by requiring Medicare to implement adjustments to reimbursement rates only after improper behavioral actions by home health agencies are actually observed affecting Medicate spending rather than assuming those improper activities will occur. While this is a great first step, weneed more legislative support to ensure that one of these bills crosses the finish line.
How can you help? The Government Affairs Office (GAO) has been working diligently to meet with key legislators and introduce them to our issues and those of our staff and clients, but we can’t do it alone. BAYADA has been asked to take the lead of home visits for our industry and we need office staff to help us communicate the importance of home care and proper Medicare reimbursement for our services.
To join in our advocacy efforts, please consider meeting with your federal Congressman or Senator through an office visit or home visit. Contact GAO Federal Associate Lindsey Wright today to learn more and to coordinate. The Federal Affairs team has a busy first month of the year and will be making visits to Home Health offices the year to hear what is most important in your office and how we can help.
By: Melissa Allman, GAO Director for South Carolina and Georgia
What a difference a year makes. This time last year I was just transitioning out of my role as Division Director for the Palmetto Division and into my new role directing our advocacy activities in South Carolina and Georgia. I didn’t know I was in for so much! As I reflect back on 2018, my thoughts go immediately to two things: First, the successes that we were able to generate for our staff and clients and secondly, the many BAYADA leadership, staff, and clients that shared their voices and helped us win!
This year not only were we able to achieve an 8.2% rate increase for all personal care Medicaid waiver services in South Carolina, but we made so much headway engaging our office staff, field staff, and clients. As one person running around in the state house, I can only do so much. It is your stories and your voices that truly have made our first full-time year in South Carolina a remarkably successful year.
Aside from our rate increase, South Carolina advocates hosted five home visits with state lawmakers, hosted two legislative roundtables, and Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope attended a Hero Ceremony for his constituent—a home health aide from RHS. In addition, we attended several events to support our champions. Then-CLP Director, Haley Keisler was named South Carolina Home Care and Hospice Association’s (SCHCHA) 2018 Professional of the Year, and ROC client Mitchell H.’s mom and caregiver, Tammy Roberts, was recognized as the SCHCHA 2018 Caregiver of the Year.
Additionally, we were able to engage a record 25 Hearts for Home Care ambassadors and advocates to attend Lobby Day, where we connected BAYADA staff to lawmakers to share why our families deserve to be able to stay together through home care.
As I reflect back on the past year, my heart is full of gratitude for all of Georgia’s leadership, Ambassadors, and advocates. Your support and advocacy made all the difference! Not only were we able to generate a rate increase for private duty nursing (PDN) services under the Georgia Pediatric Program (GAPP) waiver, but we’ve made our voices heard and our industry and company better known in the state capitol. We are truly set up for a stellar 2019!
So far in 2019 we have already began meeting with Georgia’s House and Senate leadership and the Georgia Department of Community Health (GCH). We are seeking to further increase the RN and LPN rates under the GAPP program and gain enhancements for PDN waivers for the adult population under the New Options Waiver (NOW), Comprehensive Supports Waiver (COMP) and Independent Care Waiver (ICWP) programs. We will be seeking even further involvement from our GA advocates, and I am excited to see what we can accomplish together!
It was a true honor to work along side of you all, and I’m looking forward to working with you as we continue to raise awareness for our state’s most vulnerable children and adults. Thank you to the many advocates that made 2018 a success, and that will help pave the way for more successes in South Carolina in 2019 and beyond!
We know the struggles families can face with home care: The call-outs and missed shifts, the lack of sleep, the caregivers who are like family but can’t afford to make their own ends meet, and the frustration that comes when you or your loved one can’t access the care that is deemed medically necessary. We also know the value and impact that sharing our voices has.
Recently, home care advocates have made the news for their efforts across the country. Specifically, on December 28, the Washington Post covered the impact that providers and parents are having in driving public awareness of the struggles that Marylanders and Virginians are having in accessing the skilled nursing home care their families need.
Washington Post reporter Tara Bahrampour points to low reimbursement rates in both states as the major issue contributing to families’ struggles—
“The reason lies in a stark state-by-state discrepancy in the pay in-home nurses receive through Medicaid. Maryland and Virginia have set reimbursement rates significantly lower than surrounding jurisdictions…As a result, licensed practical nurses [LPNs] are finding more lucrative positions out of state or at hospitals or other care institutions that pay more, leaving many homebound Medicaid patients without services.”
Hearts for Home Care has been leading the charge in Maryland, where a coalition of home care clients, parents, providers, and other advocates are pushing for a 25 percent increase for skilled home nursing services. Advocates say that this increase—half of which would have to come from state coffers—would serve to alleviate families’ inability to access care an average of 17 percent of the time, as reported by the state’s Department of Health. Hearts for Home Care advocate and BAYADA Home Health Care director Shannon Gahs says:
“Maryland is failing its citizens who have significant medical disabilities. Failing to provide care 17 percent of the time not only creates a dangerous situation for the person who relies on that care—it harms his or her family. Parents are calling out of work and losing the sleep they need to stay healthy to support their family. They’re doing everything they can to keep their family members safe, but this is not how it is supposed to be. We have to do better.”
In comparison, neighboring Delaware found that shifts are missed 7 percent of the time. There, the state reimburses providers at a rate approximately 30 percent higher for LPN home care services.
In California, Governor Jerry Brown recently proposed a whopping 50 percent wage increase for home care nurses—a move that advocates have pushed for over the past several years. As with families across the country, Californians who require skilled nursing home care have been struggling to get nursing care for their loved ones. Advocates report that under Medi-Cal—the state’s health care system for low income and disabled Californians—rates have not been addressed in 18 years.
While both the Maryland and California proposals are still pending, home care advocates have been successful in driving public and legislative awareness of low reimbursement rates and the impact on families’ access across the country in recent years. Most recently, the home care industry has seen reimbursement rate increases in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and New Jersey among other states. It starts with educating legislators through advocacy via any number of channels: Traditional and social media, letters, phone calls, meetings, and more.
While advocacy can seem like an intimidating activity to many who do not yet engage in it, it’s important that we share our advocacy wins with the home care and health care community at-large. As illustrated in recent news, when we band together to leverage our voices in unison, big changes can happen. It’s important to take that first step and make your message heard on behalf of the millions of Americans that rely on home care.
BAYADA Home Health Care client and Hearts for Home Care advocate Dimpal Patel shares her view on home health care in an opinion submitted to her local newspaper.
I might sound like your typical local 23-year-old: I recently graduated from UNC Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in marketing. I absolutely loved living independently on campus, and I love to play games and watch movies. But I am very different from most 23-year-olds you know because I rely on a trach and ventilator in order to survive, and it’s because of my home care nurses that I am able to grow and thrive independently.
My two BAYADA Home Health Care nurses—Chastity and Toni—have been with me for nine and six years each. They are like family to me, and they really are lifesavers. Without them, my parents would not be able to work and keep me at home, and I certainly would not have been able to experience college life. Chastity and Toni not only provide me with the skilled services that I need to survive, but they really are like best friends to me. I can’t imagine what my life would be without them—not only would it be without my two friends, but I’d likely be stuck in the hospital, a nursing home, or rely on my mom or dad to quit their job to take care of me.
My worst fear is that lawmakers cut Medicaid funding like they tried to do in Washington last year. If this happened, not only would I likely lose my nurses, but I’d be at risk of having to move into a nursing home. As someone who has experienced living independently and how it has allowed me to earn a degree and contribute to society, I ask that our state and federal legislators be mindful of what funding and service cuts can mean—not only to the state’s financially needy or to the elderly—but to 23-year-olds like me who want to continue living a full life.
Christine’s advocacy efforts led to the ultimate win: a new law that will benefit families!
Pennsylvania Hearts for Home Care Ambassador Christine Detweiler has always been a diligent advocate, but recently, her efforts have proven that home care employees can truly go beyond the call of duty for clients and staff by serving as their voices in our state capitals.
“Home care is important to so many Pennsylvanians, and many aren’t as readily able to meet with legislators to share their stories,” said Christine. “I see advocacy as an extension of why I do what I do as a home care employee: We need to make sure we get out there to be a voice for those who don’t have one!”
Christine has been progressively adding more interactions to her advocacy portfolio—Over the past year-and-a-half she focused on meeting legislators in their district offices, and in the past few months she has hosted multiple home visits. Home visits are the most impactful way to demonstrate the importance of home care to legislators because it gives them a chance to see firsthand how clients receive services. To say Christine’s home visit resonated with Pennsylvania state Representative Marguerite Quinn is an understatement.
A few months ago, Christine led the representative on a home visit with five-year old client Gideon M. who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). His mother shared their heartwarming story and opened up about their family’s challenges and Gideon’s ever-growing needs. Her story impacted the representative so deeply that shortly after the visit, Rep. Quinn emailed Christine to further assess the family’s needs and determine how she could help them obtain a transportation cart that would make Gideon’s care easier. The outreach didn’t stop there.
Rep. Quinn recently reported to Christine that she has arranged for a builder to come into the family’s home to build custom doors to create a private area for Gideon downstairs. She also reported that she contacted a rotary to find out if the family can be provided with a generator so that they do not need to constantly worry about their home’s power going out. It is truly remarkable how Christine’s efforts have impacted her client and his care.
In addition to her efforts for Gideon’s family, Rep. Quinn introduced a bill that would add SMA screening to the newborn screening list to help diagnose this disease before a child is even born. After introducing this legislation, Rep. Quinn encouraged the state Newborn Screening Advisory Board to support the measure. As a result of her continued efforts, this past month Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine signed the recommendation.
The Hearts for Home Care Team can’t be prouder of the impact that Christine has made! Her passion and tenacity has reached the hearts of many legislators, and she is truly making a name for herself in Harrisburg as a tireless advocate!
Whether you worry about your aging parents’ ability to remember to take their medication on time or you have a medically-complex child that requires 24-7 skilled nursing care, families that rely on home care across the country are feeling the squeeze: There just aren’t enough quality in-home caregivers, and it is quickly becoming a crisis. While more of the general public is beginning to understand the negative impact this is having on our communities, there is much more to be done to mitigate the impending consequences. Together, we can advocate to combat this looming access-to-care crisis.
We’ve read the articles and we know the facts. Home care is the most cost-effective and patient-preferred healthcare setting for individuals and families who want to remain at home. This is true for older Americans who wish to age in place to parents who believe their child should live at home and not be raised in costly institutional settings. Moreover, demand for in-home caregivers will be continue to increase as baby boomers age and better treatments for chronic illnesses and disabilities continue to become more widely available.
If home health care is in high demand, why are we still facing a shortage of available workers? Home care providers struggle to recruit and retain enough quality caregivers to keep up with the growing demand. Because many insurance companies still do not cover in-home healthcare services, many home care providers rely on government reimbursement rates to cover provided services. That is: When a patient is prescribed and authorized for in-home care, the state reimburses the home care provider for delivering that service. The provider relies on that reimbursement rate to not only pay the direct care worker’s wages, benefits, supplies, and training, but also to cover wages and costs for the workers needed to coordinate and supervise in-home staff.
While rates vary widely depending on the service and the state the care is delivered in, there is a dominant trend that contributes to providers’ inability to keep up with demand: State governments’ reimbursement rates are too low to attract and retain the proper, high-quality workforce necessary to deliver this care. And there are several competitors at play: Hospitals and other institutional settings like nursing homes are able to pay workers more because one caregiver can deliver multiple services to multiple people during one shift, so institutions are able to rely on multiple reimbursements to cover employee wages and costs. Additionally, the home care industry faces competition from non-healthcare industries like fast food companies and retailers, which can often pay workers at competitive rates and offer more consistent schedules and other benefits.
While home health care offers one-on-one care to vulnerable individuals at a lower cost, these reimbursement rates have stagnated and fallen past the cost-of-living across many states. Some states, have not addressed reimbursement rates for decades, putting home care providers at even more of a disadvantage when competing for labor. For example, California has not increased its reimbursement rate for Medicaid home nursing services for nearly two decades. Even the most compassionate home care workers who enjoy the personalized nature of home care are leaving the industry for better-paying jobs in neighboring states and in other settings and industries.
Who can resolve this issue? By and large, state governments are responsible for making decisions that affect home care, including reviewing reimbursement rates and adjusting them so that home health care providers can attract the workforce necessary to keep vulnerable state populations at home. While the rates vary in each state, one thing is consistent across state lines: legislators, who are responsible for making these decisions, are under great pressure to keep state budgets in line while making the necessary expenditures to all of the departments, industries, and populations that need the government’s financial support. All too often, other industries’ voices are heard louder, and home health care continues to fall by the wayside.
Is there any good news? Yes: People are beginning to see the problem. Public awareness of the importance of home care and of the impending access-to-care crisis is becoming more widespread. People care about the issue now more than ever before, and people across the country are beginning to realize that, even if it doesn’t affect them now, home care will impact their lives in the future.
Reports, studies, and articles have made information about the home care industry and the widening labor gap more available. Mercer Health Provider Advisory recently created an interactive map that visually depicts the deficit of home health aides and other healthcare workers in specific states and across the US through 2024. Articles have come out in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Baltimore Sun, and in local news outlets in South Carolina and Rhode Island, among other states.
And the other good news is evident to many: Home care is simply the right choice. Many legislators are aware of home care’s cost-saving potential, especially as home care keeps people out of costlier institutional settings and prevents ER stays and hospital admissions. And while they may understand the advantages that home care offers families in general, not all legislators realize the impact home care has on the families that they directly represent as public officials.
Public awareness isn’t enough. Action is necessary. Studies, reports, articles, and direct lobbying efforts from home care providers and state and federal associations and partnerships have raised the public’s and legislators’ awareness of home care as a service. However, lawmakers’ awareness of home care issues have not yet spurred them into taking action to address stagnating reimbursement rates and providers’ inability to compete for a fair share of the labor market. We must leverage our collective voices by truly showing legislators what home care is, how it impacts us, and what happens if families can’t access care. Legislators must change laws and policies to reprioritize home health care for their constituents.
What can you do? Join the movement. As individuals, we are responsible for telling our elected officials what is important to us and what those we elect to office should prioritize and champion. Advocating for home care is easy: Call your state and federal representatives and senators to request a meeting to discuss home care, or even simply send a letter, an email, or even a Facebook message or Tweet to let them know about what home care means to you. The Hearts for Home Care platform was specifically created to help members of the home care community learn about opportunities to get involved in home care advocacy. There are plenty of ways big and small to get involved, the most important thing is that we share our voices with one unified message: Home care is important to me, and it should be important to you too.