Does Medicare Cover Hospice?
Many people are still not very familiar with Medicare and hospice. It is actually a fairly new idea. The “end of life movement” began in the ’70s. (The “end of life movement” is separate and distinct from the Euthanasia movement and organizations, like the Hemlock Society.) Medicare did not cover Hospice when Medicare started in 1965. Medicare and hospice were only put together in 1982 as part of the Tax, Equity, and Fiscal Responsibility Act under President Reagan in response to a growing awareness of end of life concerns. The legislation was an attempt to fill the gap in care. Awareness was growing in the country of the importance of what transpired at the end of life.
A Happy Death Is Not A New Idea
I remember when I was a teenager. My father was up before me in the mornings. He would take me to school on his way to work. I would see him praying when I came into the kitchen in the morning. One time I asked him what he was reading. It was a small devotional booklet. He was praying the novena to St. Joseph for a “Happy Death.” I was startled by the subject matter.
Teenagers don’t think much about death unless forced. I had a buddy, Herbert Woltz, killed in a motorcycle accident my senior year in high school. That was my abrupt intro to death.
I asked my father why pray for such a crazy thing as a “happy death”? The two subjects were oxymoronic to me. What’s happy about death? He reminded me that is how the Hail Mary ends. “Pray for us . . . now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
After birth, he said, death is the most important event in your life. The difference, however, is you’re aware of what’s going on in the end, and you make the most important decisions of your life at “the hour of your death.” Praying for a “Happy Death” is about minimizing the pain and maximizing your moment of entrance into eternity. You’re asking for God and all the heavenly hosts to be at your side to handle the fear, pain, discouragement, and loneliness a person faces when approaching death and the moment of death.
I didn’t think much about what my father shared until many years had gone by and many friends and family members had passed away, including my dad. Medicare and hospice are something with which I have had extensive experience. Now I know why you would want to pay for a “happy death.”
End of Life Care Is Different
As a seminary student in St. Paul, Minnesota in the early 80’s, I was looking for a part-time ministry when I wasn’t at school studying. I found the Hawthorne Dominicans. The Hawthorne Dominicans is a Catholic women’s religious order devoted to the terminally ill. They had a hospice facility near my college, so I would walk down to it and help out on weekends. Most of the patients were cancer patients. My work was minor cleaning, but mainly it was visiting with the patients. Keeping up their spirits. Show them someone cared as they were coming to the end of their lives, and I would join the sisters in prayer and mass for the residents.
While I was there, I got to know the sisters. They were remarkable young ladies. The convent was inside the hospice facility. The nuns lived, prayed, and worked with their dying residents around them twenty-four hours a day. The Hawthorne Dominicans were some of the happiest people I ever met.
Their foundress, Rose Lanthrop-Hawthorne, was the youngest daughter of the famous author, Nathanial Hawthorne, and a convert to Catholicism. In her day, cancer patients were put on an island in New York harbor–Blackwell Island–because it was believed that cancer was contagious. Many people, especially the poor, died in incredible misery, isolation, and squalor.
Medicare and hospice were a century away. Rose, like Mother Teresa of our time, saw the face of Jesus in the poor, and she started a ministry to the dying among the poor immigrants of the New York slums. The Hawthorne Dominicans is a purely American woman’s religious order. Most woman’s religious orders in our country came from Europe originally.
End of Life Care Rediscovered With Hospice & Medicare
The end of life movement in our time found its origin during a 1967 lecture at Yale University by Cicely Saunders. She introduced the idea that the dying needed specialized care that served their unique situation. She later founded St. Christopher’s Hospice in London.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD research into death and dying identified five stages terminally ill patients go through. Her popular and groundbreaking book, On Death & Dying, fueled a movement to deal with issues of death and dying.
In 1972 she testified at the first national hearings on death with dignity conducted by the U.S. Senator Special Committee on Aging. Organizations, like The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), sprang up to study and promote awareness around the end of life issues. Finally, because of raised public interest and concerns, Medicare added hospice care to the list of services provides in 1982.
Medicare And Hospice Are Huge
In 2014 approximately 2.6 million people died in the US. Of those deaths, 80% were on Medicare. Medicare is the largest insurer for persons during the last year of life. A quarter of the Medicare budget is just for those who are in the last year of life. That number has been consistent for decades. The high cost of health care at the end of life is not surprising considering the number and complexity of health issues, so CMS (Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services) is acutely aware of end of life issues.
Today, hospice is an important benefit for terminally ill Medicare beneficiaries. Currently, nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries receive hospice benefits before their deaths. Medicare is the primary source of payment for hospice care in this country. Yet, hospice still remains somewhat of a mystery, and Medicare beneficiaries know very little about what Medicare does with hospice until they are forced into the situation.
How Does Medicare Cover Hospice?
Hospice is defined as a program of care and support for people who are terminally ill. Terminally ill means a life expectancy of six months or less. The primary goal of hospice in Medicare is to help terminally ill people live a comfortable life and manage their pain and discomfort. Hospice care is palliative care versus skilled nursing and home health care. That is, it is not designed to cure the patient, but rather to aid the person in the dying process. Because hospice care is so intimately involved and in such a big way with Medicare beneficiaries, understanding Medicare and hospice is essential.
Prayer to St. Joseph
O St. Joseph whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen.
What Is Medicare Hospice?
Medicare pays for hospice, but what is hospice exactly?
Medicare defines hospice as a program of care and support for people who are terminally ill. Terminal illness, as Medicare definites it, is a life expectancy of six months or less. The primary goal of hospice in Medicare is to help terminally ill people live a comfortable life and manage their pain and discomfort. Hospice care is palliative care versus skilled nursing and home health care. Hospice does not cure the patient but rather aids the person in the dying process.
Death & dying is an area most people do not wish to ponder, so there are many misconceptions about Medicare-covered hospice care.
What Medicare Hospice Is Not?
Hospice is not a place. When my mother was terminally ill with ovarian cancer, I was thinking of taking her to a place.
When I was in college in the 80s, I had volunteered in a hospice facility run by the Hawthorne Dominican sisters. The hospice facility was an actual place people went to die. The nuns took care of everything: medical, personal care, food & lodging; and patients stayed there until the end.
That is what I had in mind when the doctors spoke to my family about hospice for our mother. That is not, however, how Medicare thinks of hospice.
Medicare does not pay for a hospice facility that provides room & board unless the care is tied to something like a skilled nursing facility. Medicare does, however, pay for hospice personnel and the medications they administer during hospice.
Where Do You Go For Hospice?
Hospice can be given virtually anywhere. A Medicare beneficiary can receive hospice at a hospital, hospice in a skilled nursing facility, hospice in an assisted living residence, and hospice at home. Medicare will pay for hospice care in assisted living, nursing homes, and other facilities if it is a Medicare-approved facility.
The end of life movement that started in the ’70s sees passing at home as the ideal. Most Medicare patients, when surveyed, prefer hospice in the home. That is where people feel most comfortable, but because of the level of care required, hospice care may have to move to a hospital in the last few days or another location.
What Kind of Illness Makes You Hospice Eligible?
When we think of hospice, we usually think of cancer, but there are other illnesses that result in hospice.
Grandpa Joe was 98. Grandpa had beaten cancer 4 times, lockjaw, and the Second World War. Dying didn’t seem possible. He had always been there, and we grandkids assumed he would always be there. Terminal illness and Grandpa Joe didn’t fit.
When Grandma Hilda announced to the family, Grandpa had congestive heart failure and was going into hospice, it didn’t quite register with us grandkids.
Grandpa Joe seemed the same old Grandpa Joe. When I was home from college, we chatted about the Cornhuskers, baseball, and politics. Nothing seemed to have changed, but there was a procession of nurses and therapists who came in and out of their home.
When Grandma Hilda finally called to tell us Grandpa had passed in his sleep, his death hit me like a sledgehammer.
Grandpa’s passing was hard on everyone, but Medicare providing and paying for hospice lightened the burden, especially for my parents and grandparents.
Who Can Go Into Hospice?
Hospice is also not exclusively for the old. I have a number of clients who are in their twenties and thirties. Not everyone on Medicare is sixty-five and older, though the majority are.
Accidents or illnesses permanently disabled some, and some are terminal. Hospice is for them too.
How Much Is Hospice?
Hospice care is not expensive for those on Medicare. Medicare pays for the vast majority of the hospice costs under Medicare Part A with very little out-of-pocket costs. Medications, some equipment, and nurses are covered.
Like I said earlier, hospice does not usually include custodial care or housekeeping. That can be very costly if the family cannot provide that type of care themselves.
How Do You Get Medicare To Pay For Hospice?
A Medicare beneficiary is eligible for Medicare’s hospice care benefit if she is entitled to Medicare Part A and meets the following conditions.
- The hospice doctor and the person’s regular physician certify that the person is terminally ill with a life expectancy of six months or less if the illness runs its expected course.
- The person accepts palliative care for comfort instead of care to cure her illness.
- The person must sign a statement choosing hospice care instead of other Medicare-covered treatments for her terminal illness and related conditions.
- The care is provided by a Medicare-certified hospice agency.
When these 4 critical are met, Medicare pays for hospice. At any time, a person may choose to exit hospice.
Is Hospice Euthanasia?
Hospice does not accelerate the dying process.
I have had people describe hospice to me as akin to euthanasia where someone actively terminates a life. Hospice is not euthanasia or assisted suicide. You do not intentionally cut short a person’s life. Hospice is about allowing the dying process to take its natural and inevitable course without assistance. Hospice care is about alleviating the suffering and providing comfort while the person dies.
An uncle of mine was a retired Omaha police captain. Uncle Bill had a severe stroke with many complications. He was put on a ventilator.
Uncle Bill was a strong and courageous individual. A vegetative existence was not for him not to mention impoverishing his wife with medical bills. He ordered the ventilator turned off.
Without the ventilator, he would quickly stop breathing. He knew it. The doctors made him as comfortable as possible with heavy sedation. His body fought hard against the loss of breath.
We gathered around his hospital bed. Over the course of a day, he passed peacefully from this life to next surrounded by his loving wife and children.
Hospice Is Up To You
I’ve known many individuals over the years who have gone on hospice for a time. Instead of dying, their health improved, or they resumed a normal life and quit hospice because the decline stopped. You are free to remove yourself from hospice at any time.
Hospice Is Also For The Living
Hospice is the option when all other alternatives have been exhausted. It is the option to bring the highest possible quality of life to a person’s remaining time. The hope is family members will look back on their time and know that everything was done to preserve, prolong, and then peacefully say goodbye.
While you may struggle with the challenge of terminal illness, the end of your life and hospice is as much about your loved ones as it is about you. Watching you suffer and your family’s grief afterward will be their burden. Dying is equally about them. Understanding that there is something for them as well as you in a scary time can give you all hope that the last great challenge in life will be a little less daunting.
While hospice ends with a patient’s death, family grief counseling can continue for up to a year. Medicare pays for that hospice care too.
One’s mortality is difficult to face, but the chance you will go on Medicare hospice at the end of your life is more than 50%. That is an extraordinary number, so having confidence Medicare will pay for hospice is critical.
As much information as there is about Medicare, I’m surprised people still do not remember important Medicare dates. The surplus of commercials, mailers, emails, and advertisements probably do more to obscure and confuse people about Medicare enrollment dates. The first Medicare enrollment date to remember is the most important one.
Medicare Initial Enrollment Period
You are first eligible for Medicare at age 65. You can enroll in Medicare three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your birthday, and three months after your birthday. If you do not enroll, a penalty is permanently added to your Medicare Part B premium if you do not enroll.
The penalty is 10% of your current Part B premium added to your Part B premium for the rest of your life. Yes, it never stops. The 10% penalty is for not being enrolled in Medicare each full year when you were eligible. I have client who cannot verify he had employer health coverage for 4 year. Yes, he has a permanent 40% penalty tacked on to his Medicare Part B premium.
There is also a separate permanent penalty for not having a Medicare Part D plan as well.
The exception is if you have an employer health plan that is as good as Medicare. If you do, then you may defer going on Medicare indefinitely without penalty as long as you remain on a qualifying employer health plan. This is the part that many salespeople leave off in the rush to sell you a supplement or Medicare plan.
The Big Medicare Enrollment Date Is Annual Election Period (AEP)
Once you are on Medicare, you have an opportunity to change your Medicare Part D or Medicare Part C/Medicare Advantage plan during Annual Election Period (AEP). AEP that is from October 15th–December 7th each year.
You need this period because Medicare plans change, and your health needs change. You can switch to a plan that better serves your needs during this time. AEP is particularly important for a person on expensive medications.
Part D and Part C plans can drop prescription drugs, move them to higher tiers, or increase their copays significantly. The Annual Election Period allows people to switch to a plan that covers their medications at a lower cost.
Those on Part C/Medicare Advantage plans may be interested in other Medicare Advantage plans that have lower copays and better benefits. The Annual Election Period (AEP) is an opportunity to shift to a better plan.
For those who want to move to a Medicare Supplement from an Advantage plan or go from an Advantage plan to a Medicare Supplement, this is the time for that switch.
Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP)
A couple of years ago, CMS (Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services) decided to create Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Period (OEP). OEP is from January 1 — March 31 each year; if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan, you can switch to a different Medicare Advantage Plan or switch to Original Medicare (and join a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan) once during this time.
CMS observed that Medicare beneficiaries change Medicare Advantage plans during Annual Election Period AEP (Oct 15th–Dec 7th), but mistakes happen. The biggest mistake is the plan they switched to did not have their doctors in the network.
Other mistakes happened as well. OEP was an opportunity to rectify the situation. It was a free get-out-of-jail pass. You can make one change to another Part C/Medicare Advantage plan.
Or you could ultimately get out of your Medicare Advantage plan and go back to Original Medicare (Part A & Part B) and purchase a Part D plan.
The Lesser-Known Medicare Enrollment Date Is General Election Period
Another Medicare enrollment date to remember is January 1-March 31 each year for those who missed their initial enrollment period. This is called the General Enrollment Period. Your coverage, however, does not start until the following July 1. You might pay a monthly late enrollment penalty if you don’t qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
At this time, you may have an open enrollment period for a Medicare Supplement starting in July. You may also enroll in a Part D plan, but you will need to wait until Annual Election Period in October to enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan.
Special Enrollment Periods
There is a myriad of Special Enrollment Periods. One of the most common is when someone is past 65 and 4 months and losses their employer’s health plan. At this time, CMS will allow you to enroll in Medicare Part A and Part B without delay or penalty if you can verify employer health coverage.
Some additional forms need to be completed and submitted to the Social Security Administration. Still, you will be enrolled on the date of your choosing and not need to wait for General Election Period.
Rules & Penalties
Medicare has lots of rules, regulations, norms, and penalties. Some of them are pretty obscure, but there is little to no forgiveness for mistakes or ignorance of the law. If you have questions about Medicare, please call us at 402-614-3389 or check out our blogs and videos on OmahaInsuranceSolutions.com. You can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 or look on Medicare.gov for information about Medicare enrollment dates to remember.
All Medicare Advantage (MA) plans must provide at least the same level of coverage for home health care as does Original Medicare, so Medicare Advantage pays for home health care. However, an MA plan may have different rules, costs, and restrictions on services. For example, depending on a person’s MA plan, it may require him to:
- Obtain care from a home health agency that has contracted with the plan.
- Receive prior authorization or a referral before receiving home health care.
- Pay a copayment for home health care.
Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently announced that Medicare Advantage plan will be able to cover certain types of home health care related services that were not previously able to be offered, beginning in 2019. This will be possible because CMS has expanded the definitional scope of “supplemental benefits” that Medicare Advantage plans can offer. Starting in 2019, insurers can offer additional services to help improve enrollees’ health and quality of life.
Medicare Advantage Can Pay for Home Health Care Supplemental Benefits
Medicare Advantage plans may offer additions benefits not offered by Original Medicare. Previously, CMS did not allow any item or service to qualify as a supplemental benefit. Supplemental benefits were items of “daily maintenance.” In other words, MA plans could not offer items and services that were not directly for medical treatments. The agency has now reinterpreted the requirement for supplemental benefits to include a “primarily health-related” definition as follows:
an item or service that is used to diagnose, prevent, or treat an illness or injury, compensate for physical impairments, act to ameliorate the functional/psychological impact of injuries or health conditions, or reduce avoidable emergency and healthcare utilization
Accordingly, this reinterpretation of supplemental benefits will allow Medicare health plans to offer coverage or benefits for the following:
- Adult daycare services are services provided outside the home, such as assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs)
- In-home support services are services a personal care attendant provides. She assists disabled or medically needy individuals with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, and transferring, and instrumental activities of daily living. These activities may include managing money, preparing meals, and cleaning a house. Services must be performed by individuals licensed to provide personal care services, or in a manner that is otherwise consistent with state requirements.
- Home-based palliative care services Medicare does not cover if life expectancy is more than six months. Palliative care (“comfort care”) is to diminish symptoms of a terminally ill patient.
- Transportation for nonemergency medical services is transportation to obtain Part A, Part B, Part D, and supplemental benefit items and services. The transportation must be used to accommodate the enrollee’s health care needs: it cannot be used for nonmedical services, such as groceries or errands.
- Home safety devices and modifications are safety devices to prevent injuries in the home and/or bathroom. The modifications must be non-structural and non-Medicare covered. This benefit can include home and/or bathroom safety inspection to identify any need for safety devices or modifications.
A physician or licensed medical professional must recommend these home care services.
Medicare’s expansion of MA plan benefits, like adult days care, helps patients remain in their homes as they age rather than being institutionalized, which could also result in lower costs for Medicare and Medicaid.
The Advantage of Medicare Advantage for Home Health Care
Medicare Advantage plans may impose different rules, limitations, and costs than Original Medicare, but they must provide at least the same level of home health care benefits.
Starting in 2019, Medicare Advantage plans may offer supplemental benefits that help enrollees with daily maintenance, including transportation for medicare services, in-home support services, and home-based palliative care. Consult the individual MA plan for the details of coverage.
In the Omaha metro area, the MA plans offer some of these benefits. Currently, the plans that do offer a lot of these benefits are the “Dual” or “Special Needs” plans. Those plans are for a person on full Medicaid as well as Medicare or have some special needs because of chronic illness, such as COPD, Diabetes, etc.
In other areas with high population densities, many of the MA plans are much richer with benefits. As it stands in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, principally Omaha, Lincoln, Bellevue, and Council Bluffs, the supplemental benefits seem to be growing in number and scope each year. A couple of insurance companies recently added transportation to their health plans. More insurance companies are developing Medicare Advantage plans and including this type of home health services.
Home health care is like it sounds. It is the care that takes place in the home. Home health care consists of a wide range of services, like physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and nursing care. But, how long does Medicare pay for home health care?
The purpose of home health care is short term treatment for an illness or injury, such as a stroke or broken hip. It is about getting the person healthy and independent again. For the chronically ill and disabled, the goal is to maintain the highest level of ability and health.
Home health care is not home care. Home care would be services, like housekeeping, bathing, feeding, etc. Medicare does not usually provide those types of personal services, strictly speaking.
There are exceptions at times that allow for a temporary home health aide. It is skilled nursing care provided in the home for those who would not have access otherwise. While an excellent service, the big question is: how long does Medicare pay for home health care? Some injuries and illnesses may last for a long time.
Medicare Part A and Part B both provide coverage for home health care. Under Part B, a person is eligible for home health care if she is homebound, requires skilled care, and is certified as needing care by a physician. Medicare Part B covers most home health care. The added benefit is Part B does not require a qualifying hospital stay.
Medicare Part A Coverage
Part A, in contrast, does provide home health care coverage in some situations. A hospital or skilled nursing facility stay triggers Part A. If a person has a three-day inpatient stay at a hospital or has a Medicare-covered SNF stay, Part A will cover up to 100 days of home health care.
Note that a person must still meet the other eligibility requirements to receive home health care, such as needing skilled care, being homebound, and having a doctor certify that such care is necessary. A person also must receive home health services within 14 days of being discharged from a hospital or SNF. If a person doesn’t meet all of the requirements for Part A coverage but is otherwise eligible for home health care benefits, her care will be financed under Part B.
Regardless of whether Part A or Part B covers a person’s care, Medicare will pay:
- the entire approved cost of all covered home health visits
- 80 percent of the Medicare-approved amount for durable medical equipment
Certified Home Health Agency Disclosure of Covered Costs
Before home health care starts, the certified home health agency must tell the person how much Medicare will pay. The agency must also disclose if Medicare does not cover needed items or services. Then tell how much the person will have to pay for them.
For example, charges to a person may be:
- medical services and supplies that Original Medicare doesn’t cover, such as prescription drugs or routine foot care
- 20 percent of the approved amount for Medicare-covered durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, and oxygen equipment
Home Health Agency Advance Beneficiary Notice of Noncoverage
When a certified home health agency believes that Medicare may not pay for some or all of a person’s home health care, it must give the person a written notice called an Advance Beneficiary Notice of Noncoverage (ABN). The ABN might occur, for example, if the home health agency thinks that Medicare will not pay for items or services because:
- The care is not considered medically reasonable and necessary.
The care is only unskilled, a home health care aide, like help with bathing or dressing.
- The person is not homebound.
- The person does not need skilled care on an intermittent basis.
The ABN must describe the service and/or items that may not be covered and explain why Medicare probably won’t pay. The notice must also include an estimate of the costs for the items and services, so that the beneficiary can decide whether to receive the services, understanding that she may have to pay out-of-pocket for such care.
The ABN also gives directions for getting an official decision from Medicare about payment for home health services and supplies and for filing an appeal if Medicare won’t pay.
Home Health Care Length of Coverage
There is no limit to the length of time that a person can receive home health care benefits. Once the initial qualifying criteria is met, Medicare will cover home health care as long as it is medically necessary. However, care is limited. There are a maximum number of visits per week and number of hours per day of care.
When a person first begins receiving home health care, the plan of care will allow for up to 60 days. At the end of this period, the physician must decide whether to recertify the patient for another 60 days. The patient must be recertified at least every 60 days if home health care is to continue.
Medicare does not limit the number of times that a physician may recertify a patient for home health care benefits, provided all of the eligibility requirements continue.
How Long will Medicare Pay for Home Health Care?
A home health agency must give a beneficiary a written Home Health Change of Care Notice (HHCCN) when the patient’s plan of care is changing because the home health agency makes a business decision to reduce or stop providing some or all of the home health services or supplies.
The person’s doctor has changed the person’s orders, which may reduce or stop certain home health care services or supplies that Medicare covers.
For example, the agency issues an HHCCN when the doctor changes the plan of care from five days a week to three days a week. The beneficiary must be notified in writing of the change of service.
The HHCCN lists the services or supplies that will be changed and gives the beneficiary instructions on what to do if she does not agree with the change.
The home health agency is not required to give a person an HHCCN when a Notice of Medicare Noncoverage is issued.
Notice of Medicare Noncoverage
When all of a person’s Medicare covers services are ending, the home health agency must give the beneficiary a Notice of Medicare Noncoverage (NOMNC). This notice states when services will end as well as how to appeal the decision. The NOMNC also provides information on how to contact the Beneficiary and Family-Centered Care Quality Improvement Organization (BFCC-QIO) to request an expedited appeal.
Once a person decides to appeal and has reached the BFCC-QIO, the home health agency must give the patient a more detailed notice explaining why it believes Medicare-covered care should end. The agency should tell the applicable coverage rules and other information specific to the person’s situation.
A physician must submit a statement of appeal to the BFCC-QIO that the patient’s health will be jeopardized if care is discontinued.
All of these factors go into how long Medicare pays for home health care. Knowledge of these rules is important so that you can maximize your benefits and avoid costly mistakes.
Medicare covers Home Health Care, but the Medicare beneficiary must meet particular criteria, maintain a status of medical need, and follow Medicare regulations and processes to enjoy the benefits.
- A physician must certify that skilled care is needed and must prescribe the plan of care.
- A participating Medicare-approved home health care organization must provide the care.
- The patient must need at least one of the services: intermittent skilled nursing care, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, and continued occupational therapy.
- The patient must be confined to the home.
A physician must meet face-to-face with the patient 90 days before the start of home health care or within 30 days after the start of home health care. She must sign and date a certification that the patient needs skilled care and meets all the Medicare eligibility criteria for home health care. As part of the certification, she must determine from the in-person meeting a plan of care.
- A plan of care describes the type of services and care a person will receive for their health concerns. The program will list:
- the variety of services, supplies, and equipment needed.
- the health care professional who will deliver these services
- how often services will be needed
- the beneficiary’s function limitations
- nutritional requirements]
- the results that the physician expects from the treatment
The home health agency is responsible for providing all of the care listed in a person’s plan of care. The agency may do this through its staff or an arrangement with another agency.
The doctor certifies the person as eligible for an initial 60-day benefit period. At the end of the period or before, the doctor may recertify the person, or if the person’s condition has changed, determine the care is no longer needed. Only the doctor can certify the patient or make changes to the plan of care, not the home health agency.
Medicare-Certified Home Health Care Agency
Medicare will pay for home health care only if a Medicare-certified home health care agency provides it. Medicare approves agencies that meet specific federal health and safety requirements as well as Medicare standards necessary for reimbursement. To ensure that these standards met, Medicare regularly inspects home health agencies. However, Medicare certification does not guarantee a legal warrant of the individuals performing the services.
A Medicare-certified home health agency agrees to:
- be paid by Medicare
- accept only the amount that Medicare approves for its services.
The patient has the right to choose any agency to provide the services as long as they are Medicare certified. The agency is not required to accept the person if it cannot meet that person’s medical needs.
Skilled Care Required But Intermittent
To qualify for Medicare provided home health care, the person needs specialized care. Skilled care means services, such as skilled nursing care, physical therapy, speech therapy, and/or continuing occupational therapy.
The key to determining home health care versus skilled nursing care in a facility is the quantity of care. Home health care must be intermittent. That is, the care must be part-time, meaning less than eight hours each day for up to 21 days–although coverage may be extended in particular circumstances when the need for additional skilled nursing is finite and predictable.
The homebound criterium does not mean the person is a prisoner in her home. It means leaving is an undue burden. She has trouble leaving home without help because she must use a cane, wheelchair, walker, crutches, or specialized transportation.
It does not mean that person does not leave home on occasion because of important family events, specific medical tests, funerals, or weddings. Even attending adult daycare would not be a violation of being homebound.
Home Health Care May Cover A Health Aide
Home health aide services get a great deal of play. Medicare will cover a health aide for short periods. The aide service must be coupled with home health care services. Medicare does not cover it exclusively.
The home health aide is in support of the healing process with the other skilled nursing professionals. The home health aid does not have a nursing license. For example, a home health aide might help a person with personal care, such as bathing, using the toilet, or dressing–in other words, services that do not require the skills of a licensed nurse.
Other services are help with medications that are self-administered, assistance with activities that are directly supportive of skilled therapy. The aide may help with routine exercises and/or practicing functional communication skills. Where appliable, she may help with regular care of prosthetic and orthotic devices. Medicare will not cover the home health aide if the patient is not receiving skilled care.
Home Health Care Can Cover Social Services
Many injuries and illnesses come with an emotional cost. A patient of my wife recently was hospitalized because his son assaulted him while under the influence of illegal drugs. He was defending his wife, who was likewise being assaulted. The father was hospitalized with broken bones. He is also currently going through chemotherapy treatment and is eighty-six years old.
As you can imagine, the emotional trauma to this couple was extensive and may require counseling and other intervention when the gentleman returns home. Home health care provides these types of services as well.
Durable Medical Equipment
Home health agencies will also help with durable medical equipment. A patient may need a hospital bed, walker, wheelchair, or oxygen. Medicare also covers Medicare supplies, like wound dressings or catheters that are ordered as part of a patient’s care.
If a home health agency doesn’t supply durable medical equipment directly, its staff will typically arrange for a home equipment supplier to bring the items need to the person’s home.
Does Medicare Exclude Some Home Health Care Services?
Medicare does not pay for the following:
- 24-hour-per-day care at home
- meals delivered to the home
- homemaker services like shopping, cleaning, and laundry
- personal care given by home health aides (like bathing, using the toilet, or help in getting dressed)when this is the only care needed.
Does Medicare cover home health care? It certainly does when the patient meets the established criteria. Home health care is a rich source of benefits to beneficiaries that are delivered in a variety of ways and circumstances as needed.
We know what hospitals are. We all have been to a doctor’s office. Many have experienced a relative in a nursing home, but what is home health care?
Home health care is like it sounds. It is the care that takes place in the home. It consists of a wide range of services, like physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and nursing care.
The purpose of home health care is short term treatment for an illness or injury, such as a stroke or broken hip. It is about getting the person healthy and independent again. Or, it is for the chronically ill and disabled. The goal is to maintain the highest level of ability and health.
Home health care is not home care. Home care would be services, like housekeeping, bathing, feeding, etc. Medicare does not usually provide those types of personal services, strictly speaking, though there are exceptions at times that allow for a temporary home health aide. It is skilled nursing care provided in the home for those who would not have access otherwise.
Does Medicare Cover It?
Four criteria must be met for Medicare to pay for home health care.
- A physician must certify home health care is necessary.
- The home health care provider must be a Medicare-approved organization.
- The patient must need at least one of the following: skilled nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy.
- The patient must be homebound.
Doctor Certifies Patient For Home Health Care
The doctor must certify a patient needs home health care during an in-person meeting. He signs a certificate certifying that the person meets the Medicare qualification. The doctor lays out a plan of care that care professions implement, and the certification is for 60 days. At the end of the 60 days, or before, he can recertify that patient for an additional 60 days.
The doctor can continue to recertify the patient indefinitely as long as the person qualifies for the medically necessary treatment, and Medicare will continue to cover them.
Home Health Agency Medicare Certified
The home health agency providing the care must be certified by Medicare for the service to be Medicare-covered. In my office building as you come in, a care agency is in the lobby. On the office door, the home health agency lists the various services, and in even bigger letters, it states, “Medicare Certified.”
Medicare certification of a home health agency is an extensive process. Because accreditation is arduous and a source of considerable revenue, home health agencies are very careful about maintaining their certification and advertising their Medicare certification as well. The Omaha metro area has some excellent home health care agencies.
Home health care must also be intermittent care. That is, it consists of fewer than seven days a week, or daily care for less than 8 hours each day for up to 21 days. Otherwise, a skilled nursing facility would most likely be recommended for a more intense regimen of care.
The patient must be homebound, which means she cannot leave her home without great difficulty and requires help, such as a wheelchair, walker, crutches, or specialized transportation. It doesn’t mean she can never leave her home for important things, like family events, hairdressing appointments, some doctors’ appointments, but getting regular health services outside the house would be an undue burden.
People are living longer. Tremendous advances in technology have enabled seniors to stay out of expensive skilled nursing care. Nowadays, patients may receive very sophisticated treatment at home and do not need to be institutionalized, keeping the cost of treatment lower. It is an important and essential service that Medicare covers.
Jimmo vs. Sebelius On Skilled Nursing
Skilled Nursing Care is amazingly complex. Because the Medicare coverage of Skilled Nursing Facility stays is so confusing, patients sued. The case went all the way to the Federal Courts. Jimmo vs. Sebelius, a class-action lawsuit, challenged the Center For Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) interpretation of the “improvement stand” that many used to interpret Medicare coverage of Skilled Nursing Facility booklet.
Medicare Coverage of Skilled Nursing Facility Stays: Improvement Standard
This one hit home for me because of how it affected my mother and our family. My mother was in the last stages of ovarian cancer. It became clear that no treatment was going to work. She was on palliative care. During one of her episodes, she was in extreme pain. The hospital admitted my mother because intravenously administered pain killers were the only way to get her pain under control. After that, she was supposed to come home. But her condition was such that we were not going to be able to care for her adequately. We talked about a nursing home—skilled nursing—but one of the criteria at the time was the patient must be able to improve. Because she was terminal, improvement was definitely not in the cards. We were initially told that Medicare would not pay for her stay in a skilled nursing facility. However, that was not accurate. The people we were talking with were operating off old, outdated information.
Slow Deterioration of a Condition
On January 24, 2013, the class action lawsuit Jimmo vs Sebelius settled in favor of the patient, and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) clarified its policy. Medicare coverage of Skilled Nursing Facility stays no longer required “improvement.” Instead, care could be prescribed to maintain the status of an individual’s condition, or slow the deterioration of a condition, as well as to improve the person’s condition.
Jimmo Website Explains New Medicare Coverage
As ordered by the federal judge in Jimmo v. Sebelius, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) published a new webpage containing important information about the Jimmo Settlement on its CMS.gov website. The Jimmo webpage is the final step in a court-ordered Corrective Action Plan. The action reinforces the fact that Medicare does cover skilled nursing and skilled therapy services needed to maintain a patient’s function or to prevent or slow decline. Improvement or progress is not necessary as long as skilled care is required. The Jimmo standards apply to home health care, nursing home care, outpatient therapies, and, to a certain extent, for care in Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities.
In my mother’s case, the skilled nursing facility admitted my mother, even though she was terminal, to help slow the deterioration of her health. As it turned out, she passed away within two weeks of her admittance, and the personnel at her skilled nursing facility were outstanding! They made her last days as bearable as the situation would allow.
Medicare Coverage of Skilled Nursing Facilities Changed
Medicare coverage of Skilled Nursing Facility stays practices have changed. Researchers assessed the impact of the Jimmo settlement by looking at changes to the number of physical therapy and/or occupational therapy visits per year, per patient, focusing specifically on the number of individuals who had 12 or more therapy visits during a 12-month timespan.
Healthcare is very expensive. There are many conflicting groups and interests. The rules, policies, and mechanisms are complex. Some of the people you deal with can be frustrating. The complexity of the system is driven home to me daily as I talk with clients and deal with issues that arise. You need to be aware of the rules and regulations around Medicare coverage and nursing home care. Or have someone who knows them and can help.
Medicare Coverage For Skilled Nursing Facilities
Skilled Nursing Facilities—or better known in the jargon of Medicare as SNF—is the cause of much consternation among people on Medicare. The reason for the distress and stress is because Medicare beneficiaries are sometimes denied coverage. This both confuses and angers Medicare beneficiaries because there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the denials. People ask: does Medicare cover Skilled Nursing Facility?
Medicare Billing Guidelines For Skilled Nursing Facility
From my observation over the years, doctors’ offices sometimes don’t follow the Medicare billing guidelines for Skilled Nursing Facility. I understand everyone is busy and people are certainly well-intentioned, but Medicare is insurance. Insurance has rules, protocols, and forms. A lack of adequate explanation to Medicare is many times the cause of Medicare denials, I’ve seen over the years. Other times the situation does not meet the Medicare criteria for Skilled Nursing Facility stays.
What are the Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility Requirements?
When skilled nursing is prescribed, five Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility requirements must be met. The first is a qualifying hospital stay.
The Medicare beneficiary must stay as an inpatient for three consecutive days in the hospital. Each of these is an essential ingredient. The beneficiary must be admitted to the hospital. If the patient is only admitted for “observation,” she will not qualify. She must be an “inpatient.” Next, the stay must be consecutive. It can’t be a day or two within a short period of time. It must be at least 3 consecutive days. And finally, it must be at least 3 days, not counting the day of dismissal.
Many times, people assume the day of dismissal counts, but that is definitely not the case. Three days of inpatient care at least with a fourth day for the dismissal. Sometimes people will complain that the patient doesn’t need a third day, but if you want the person to qualify, she must stay at least three consecutive days.
Medicare Skilled Nursing Facility Benefit Period
The second ingredient for Medicare to cover a skilled nursing facility stay is the admittance must occur with 30 days of dismissal from the qualifying hospital stay.
My mother-in-law had open heart surgery a while back. Her cardiologist prescribed that she stay in a skilled nursing facility for cardiac rehab. She was not a very cooperative patient. She refused. My wife was insistent and explained that if she didn’t go then, she would lose the opportunity for skilled nursing rehab. My mother-in-law’s response was she would do it later if she needed it.
Many people mistakenly think they can go to a nursing home for rehab if they simply want to. It must be within the 30-day window after dismissal from an inpatient stay. Otherwise, Medicare will not pay. Now you may think it is not fair, or right, or make sense. I am simply stating the rules and facts.
Medicare Guidelines for Skilled Nursing Facility
The third requirement for admittance to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) is the treatment can only be provided by a skilled nursing facility.
What this usually means is “full time” or five day a week care. In other words, the same level of treatment cannot be provided by going to a treatment center by appointment a few times a week. Only an inpatient skilled nursing facility can provide the level of intense treatment needed for adequate recovery. This can be a tricky call and where judgments can and are questioned.
I had a client who had a knee replacement. Usually a knee replacement, even with complications, does not require admittance to a skilled nursing facility (SNF) because physical therapy is something that can be completed by going to the physical therapist’s office and/or doing exercises on your own. This situation was different.
She was living in a small apartment with lots of furniture. There was a pet. The husband was feeble. While she was not very old, her knee was not recovering at the usual pace. The doctor recommended skilled nursing care, but Medicare denied the prescription.
The family came to me with questions. I suggested they explain the situation to the doctor in greater detail and with more urgency. She was a serious “fall risk” because of her living situation.
Once the idea was emphasized sufficiently in the doctor’s notes to Medicare, Medicare understood that the work that had been done would be undone if she fell at home because of a pet, furniture, and/or feeble husband, etc. The request was approved.
Skilled nursing is very expensive. Medicare needs to understand the “medical necessity” of a prescription. Once the idea is communicated effectively, things can happen.
List of Medicare Approved Skilled Nursing Facilities
The fourth ingredient is that a doctor, or another appropriate medical professional, certifies that the patient needs the type of daily therapy that can only be performed in a skilled nursing facility. The skilled nursing facility must also be a Medicare-certified skilled nursing facility. You can go to Medicare.gov to find certified sites and Medicare the star ratings for Skilled Nursing Facilities.
The fifth and final requirement can be confusing. The skilled nursing care must be for the reason the patient was in the hospital for the three days.
Imagine John goes to the hospital because of a broken hip. While John was in the hospital, he has a stroke. The doctor certifies John for treatment at a skilled nursing facility for the stroke, not the hip issue. The skilled nursing recommendation does not have to be based on the reason the person was admitted to the hospital, but it does need to be because of something he was treated for during the 3-day hospital stay.
As you can see, Medicare coverage for skilled nursing facilities can be complex. It’s important to have some understanding so that you know what to expect, or not to expect, when it comes to Medicare coverage of skilled nursing facility care, and how to navigate the processes to your benefit and the benefit of loved ones. Medicare Part A covers the Skilled Nursing Facility, but the rule must be followed for Skilled Nursing Facility Medicare reimbursement to happen.