Budget cuts for home health

Former NY Mayor Ed Koch wrote a great article on the budget cuts to home health that have forced many older citizens into nursing homes.  Below are excerpts of the article:

In the last seven years, while the Medicare budget for nursing home stays has dramatically increased from $13.6 billion to $15.7 billion, home health care has been cut by 25 percent, from $14 billion to $10.5 billion. It is cut further in the Bush administration’s proposed fiscal year 2008 budget, which calls for an “inflation freeze” that would slash $410 million in fiscal 2008 and $9.68 billion over five years.

None of this makes common sense. Home care allows the elderly who have become frail to maintain their dignity and independence, sleep in their own beds, use their own kitchens and stay in the house they have long enjoyed (or in the house of a child or relative) – unless their condition deteriorates to the point where moving into an institution is absolutely necessary.

Besides offering a higher quality of life, home care is far cheaper than the alternatives – averaging one-fifth the price of nursing homes and a tiny fraction (3 percent) of the cost of hospitalization. It costs roughly $109 per visit, compared to $499 per day in a skilled nursing facility and $3,838 for hospitalization, according to Medicare statistics.

Starting in 1997, under the Balanced Budget Act, Medicare home health spending was cut by half. This forced the closing of nearly 25 percent of all home health agencies in the United States.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “hospitals / nursing homes” gave more than $30 million to candidates in the 2004- 2006 federal election cycles, based on Federal Election Commission data, and they are among the top third of 80 “industries” ranked. Home health does not even rate a mention on the chart.

There are some 1.6 million people in nursing homes today. Sometimes, senior citizens are able to live normal lives and care for themselves, but as people age, many have problems compounded by poor health and need caretakers. They should not be forced into nursing homes for lack of alternatives.