My Turn: NH’s seniors deserve the option, and ability, to choose home-based care

For the Monitor
Published: 12/4/2021 6:00:55 AM
Modified: 12/4/2021 6:00:26 AM

With the delta variant rapidly spreading across the country, it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. With roughly 80% of COVID-19 related deaths occurring in those over age 65, many seniors recently treated in a hospital would prefer to recover in the comfort and safety of their own homes in order to limit their potential exposure to COVID-19.

Home healthcare allows patients to receive many of the same highly skilled services they would otherwise receive in a nursing home, but in their own comfortable setting with their loved ones by their side.

While more than 21,000 Granite Staters already receive Medicare home health services annually, many seniors unfortunately do not have this option under Medicare’s current home health benefit if they need additional services such as help getting dressed or making meals.

But this soon could change. Sen. Maggie Hassan recently co-sponsored the Choose Home Care Act of 2021. If passed, this legislation would reform Medicare’s limited home health benefit to provide eligible patients with a safe, cost-effective alternative to care in a skilled nursing facility.

By providing more flexible, extended home-based care services such as skilled nursing, therapy, personal care and telehealth services to more vulnerable patients following a hospital stay, the Choose Home program could help protect more of New Hampshire’s older adults.

Greater access to home health can have a tremendous economic impact as well. Home health already creates an estimated 6,000 jobs across New Hampshire, a number likely to grow as more seniors decide to take advantage of the benefit. And data shows Choose Home could save Medicare up to $247 million annually, reducing the burden on taxpayers and helping to keep the Medicare program solvent.

If enacted, The Choose Home Care Act would improve the delivery of home health to seniors after they have been in a hospital. It will expand access to personal care and support with activities of daily living such as meals, transportation and bathing. By also providing training and support for caregivers and family members, Choose Home will better prepare caretakers to assist the growing number of patients who will be eligible for home health.

While not every senior will want to recover at home, having the option to choose home is an important step toward empowering seniors with greater choice in making healthcare decisions. And it comes at a time when the coronavirus continues to threaten their health and safety.

Further, a new national poll shows strong support for post-hospital care in the home with 94% of Medicare-aged respondents saying they would prefer health care at home. In the same poll, 86% of respondents expressed support for the Choose Home legislation.

The pandemic has made clear just how important it is for vulnerable Medicare patients to stay home. That’s why Congress must act. I thank Sen. Hassan for her leadership in co-sponsoring this bill and I urge her colleagues in Congress to join her in supporting the Choose Home Care Act of 2021.

(Gina Balkus is the chief executive officer of the Granite State Home Health and Hospice Association. She lives in Nashua.)

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