Package provides relief to HME industry ‘on the front lines’

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Friday, March 27, 2020

WASHINGTON – A stimulus package passed by Congress this afternoon will provide a financial boost to HME providers caring for patients during the current coronavirus pandemic, but there’s more work to be done, say industry stakeholders.

The legislation extends the 50/50 blended rate to rural areas and establishes a new 75/25 rate retroactive to March 6, 2020, for non-rural, non-bid areas—both for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

“This means new dollars coming in at a time when HME providers are under financial constraints to keep up with the pace of patients being triaged to the home,” said Tom Ryan, president and CEO of AAHomecare.

Having those blended rates in place should help to preserve access, especially in rural areas where some providers were considering pulling out of the industry when the 50/50 rate was initially due to expire at the end of the year, say stakeholders.

While there’s no definitive timeframe for the blended rates to remain in place, previous public health emergencies serve as a guideline.

“The H1N1 crisis lasted 450 days, and it was not nearly as big (as the coronavirus pandemic),” said Kim Brummett, vice president of regulatory affairs for AAHomecare, during a webcast on Thursday. “We feel comfortable that for some time (the reimbursement) will be at those higher rates.”

Stakeholders expect another COVID-19 package to be introduced later this spring. That could serve as a vehicle for additional HME asks, including coverage for short-term oxygen therapy for beneficiaries with acute conditions to ease hospital overflows.

One remaining big question mark: Round 2021 of the competitive bidding program, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. Even if CMS has the time and resources during the crisis to properly assess and award bids, it wouldn’t make sense to do anything that could further limit access to care, say stakeholders.

“I don’t know if we have to do it legislatively or do some sort of a waiver—all they have to do is say, ‘Hey we’re going to delay this thing,’” said John Gallagher, vice president of government relations for VGM. 

Providers also have access to other, broader relief measures aimed at small businesses, including guaranteed loans to keep employees working, says Gallagher.

Stakeholders hope the current crisis forces lawmakers to realize just how important HME providers are in the health care continuum in keeping patients out of hospitals.

“This is what this industry has always done and will continue to do,” says Ryan. “We are on the front lines every single day during this pandemic putting patients on oxygen. It’s our time to shine.”