As a health care professional in home health, I see daily the increased need for skilled health services among our state’s senior population. At the same time, we are facing dramatic cuts to Medicare reimbursement that would make it increasingly difficult — if not impossible — for our state’s home health providers to maintain the level of care elderly patients need.

In the more than 20 years I have worked in home health, and as the co-founder of Great Lakes Caring Hospice and Home Health, I have seen sweeping and remarkable gains in the skills and resources of our clinicians and vast improvements in patient outcomes. The proposed cuts suggested by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would directly threaten these benefits to our senior populations.

Home care is becoming increasingly important in our nation’s health care delivery system because of the clinically advanced, cost-effective and patient-preferred services provided. Once available only in a facility or hospital-based environment, clinicians are now able to provide complex care right in a patient’s own home at a much lower cost.

Each day, nearly 10,000 baby boomers across the country become Medicare-eligible. In Michigan alone, approximately 170,000 seniors rely on Medicare for home health services each year. The availability of home health is critical to patients, their families and the Medicare program.

CMS has cut Home Health reimbursement by more than 13 percent from 2009 to 2013 and has proposed additional cuts in Medicare funding for home health by 14 percent over the next four years, a cumulative reduction of more than 27 percent. CMS is calling for rebasing of payments — a process intended to align payment with costs — at the highest possible rate. Proposed funding cuts to home health threaten our ability to provide the level of care our senior patients need and deserve.

Already, Medicare has cut home health payment by $72.5 billion. When combined with the proposed rebasing cuts, Michigan alone would experience $3.7 billion in cuts to Medicare home health funding over 10 years.

If this proposed rule is finalized in its draft form, the regulation will drive 47 of the 50 states — including Michigan — to negative Medicare home health margins by 2017. Projections suggest that our state’s home health providers will have an overall negative margin of -13 percent if cuts take effect. No health care provider can properly serve seniors when reimbursement does not meet the actual cost of care.

More importantly, of the 14 most impacted states, Michigan unfortunately ranks first in terms of the number of affected Medicare Home Health beneficiaries and second in terms of the number of home health professionals. These patients and caregivers are important to our communities and they deserve only the best quality health care and excellent job opportunities.

These figures should alarm lawmakers and regulators. These cuts will render many providers inoperable, jeopardizing patient access to services, particularly in rural areas of our state.

I understand our leaders in Washington have to make tough choices when it comes to funding federal programs, but the health care needs of our aging population cannot be ignored.

I’m urging CMS and Congress to put a stop to these cuts to protect seniors’ access to home health care and I’m also encouraging your readers to join me, by contacting our elected officials in Washington, in protecting those that are most vulnerable.

William Deary is the CEO and co-founder of Great Lakes Caring Hospice and Home Health

Published by the Oakland Press