Congress Must Oppose Copayments for Medicare Home Health Services – Charlie’s Story

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By Jodi McKinney, Director of Corporate Communications, Celtic Healthcare

“I might as well just end it,” said 67-year old Charlie Reisser of Kingston, PA, after coming home from the funeral of his beloved wife of 47 years and finding a letter in the mailbox from the State informing him that he will no longer receive his supplemental public assistance.

When asked what he thinks of the proposed deficit reduction plan to implement a $100 copay on the Medicare home health benefit, he stated simply, “I just wouldn’t use it.  If I had to pay $100 to have home health care for myself or if they would have asked for it in the care of my recently passed wife, we would have declined.  We just could not have afforded it.  It would take the last 100 bucks I have.”

Copayments for Medicare home health services have been proposed in Congress as a means of limiting the growth of Medicare home health expenditures; but as Charlie would attest, copays are regressive and inefficient.  Copays would most heavily affect our poorest, oldest, and frailest beneficiaries.

Charlie, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from cancer and congestive heart failure, lives in a HUD apartment building, which costs him $501 per month in rent out of his total income from Social Security of $1,063 per month.  He retired at 62 years old to take care of his sick wife, who was ten years his senior.  Shirley passed away December 2, 2012 after being on Celtic Hospice and Palliative Care of NE PA.

“She was my life.  I have lost everything.  To come home the day of her funeral and find that letter from the State put me over the edge,” expressed Charlie.

Fortunately, after several phone calls, visits, pleas and tears, intervention from a friendly staff member at the Public Assistance office found that the letter was a “mistake,” and he would still receive his benefits.

The day I spoke with Charlie, it was mid-month, and he had $76 in food stamps left and less than $100 in cash to make it through to the end of the month.  If he needed home health care, Charlie stated, “there is just no way I could afford the copay if that were instituted.”

Congress must oppose copayments for Medicare home health services.  Copays would create a significant barrier for those most in need of home care and would result in the increased use of more costly care from hospitalization and institutional care.

Editor’s Note: This story first appeared on the Celtic Healthcare Blog and was reprinted with permission from Celtic Healthcare.