Washington - Sen. John F. Kerry and Rep. Jim McGovern today announced three victories in the fight to restore patient access to home health care under Medicare, and ensure that home health providers are able to continue serving the sickest and most vulnerable patients, hard-to- reach seniors who reside in rural and urban areas, and those whose medical conditions require costly amounts of medical supplies.

Included in the FY 2001 Omnibus Appropriations bill are Kerry-McGovern provisions that would utilize telehealth technology by revising the current payment system to enable Medicare to reimburse for home care services provided via telecommunications, provide a 10% increase in payments to rural providers who face higher transportation costs and reductions in overall income due to lost productivity in time spent on traveling, and requires GAO to study the problem of inadequate Prospective Payment System (PPS) reimbursement for medical supplies, especially for agencies treating particularly supply-intensive patients, and delays for 1 year the impending 15% across-the-board cut in home health care services.

"This legislative victory will provide immediate relief - particularly to those in rural areas - to many the senior citizens who depend on home health care in Massachusetts," said Senator Kerry. "These steps mark the first victory in a long fight Jim McGovern and I will continue to wage to undue the deep cuts that have left many of our parents and grandparents with no choice but to enter hospitals and nursing homes, or go without the help they need. In the upcoming year, it is going to take bipartisan cooperation to permanently eliminate the 15% cut in home health spending, make the 10% add-on permanent, and remove the costs of non-routine medical supplies from the PPS base payment so that our families, friends, and neighbors can receive better home health care in the future."

"These provisions represent clear progress," Rep. McGovern said. "Although we still have work to do to make sure home health care is available and affordable to those who need it, I'm pleased that Congress has begun to address some of the problems Senator Kerry and I identified in our legislation. In order to ensure home health care's long-term stability, we will need to fashion creative, bipartisan solutions in the next Congress. First and foremost on our agenda should be the elimination of the impending 15% cut mandated by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act."

According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), Medicare spending on home health care dropped 48 percent in the last two fiscal years - from $17.5 billion in 1998 to $9.7 billion in 1999 - far beyond the original savings sought by the Balanced Budget Act. Across the country, these cuts have forced over 2,500 home health agencies to close and over 900,000 patients to lose their services. The loss of home health care providers has cost 10,000 patients access to home health services in Massachusetts alone.