Shea-Porter Introduces Bill to Protect Medical Care in NH

Bill Would Stop the Decline in Medicare Reimbursements

Rochester, NH - Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter announced this week that she has introduced a bill that would raise Medicare reimbursement payments for home health care agencies in New Hampshire. The bill will reverse the effects of changes to the Medicare wage reimbursement system that have left home health care providers across the Granite State struggling to make ends meet.

"The cuts in Medicare wage reimbursement rates have had a devastating impact upon home health care providers," said Congresswoman Shea-Porter. "My bill would guarantee that home health care agencies are financially able to continue offering quality health care to our neediest citizens in New Hampshire."

In 2005, Congress and the Bush Administration changed the rules for Medicare reimbursement for home health care agencies. Formerly, the reimbursement rates for providers in New Hampshire had been tied to the rates in the Boston area, enabling local agencies to compete with hospitals for the most qualified staff. The changes that went into effect at the start of 2007 carved New Hampshire into smaller rural zones which qualified for significantly lower reimbursement rates.

Shea-Porter announced the legislation Monday morning in her hometown at a meeting with leaders of the Rochester District Visiting Nurse Association. The agency has been one of the hardest-hit providers in the state.

"The nursing shortage is alive and well in southern New Hampshire," said Linda Hotchkiss, Executive Director of the Rochester VNA. "Since the cutbacks our recruitment of new nurses has been seriously challenged. It has become much harder for us to compete for staff, even with local hospitals, which are reimbursed according to a different system."

Shea-Porter's legislation remedies this situation by establishing a minimum reimbursement rate for home health care providers. Specifically, the bill links Medicare reimbursement rates to the 'rural floor,' the same index that guarantees a fair playing field for hospitals in smaller markets.

Susan Young, Executive Director of the Home Care Association of New Hampshire, the statewide organization that represents individual home care agencies, applauded the legislation:

"The loss in funding from the Medicare program, which is the major funding source for home health care in New Hampshire, has created a significant hardship for many agencies. The step that Congresswoman Shea-Porter has taken with this bill is, we believe, the most efficient way to remedy this problem."

In addition to the provisions concerning the reimbursement rules for home health care providers, Shea-Porter's bill will establish minimum rates for hospitals in New Hampshire as well. Under the legislation, hospital Medicare reimbursement rates, which have been declining in recent years, would not be permitted to fall below their FY 2007 levels.