The last chance this year to ease restrictions on people receiving Medicare home health services lies in getting an amendment passed in the starkly divided U.S. Senate.
The David Jayne Medicare Homebound Modernization Act of 2002, named for the Atlanta man with ALS who has led the fight to pass it, would remove restrictions on people receiving home health nursing services who meet certain criteria, including those with ALS. Currently, Medicare home health care recipients can lose their services if they leave their homes for more than brief absences, except for approved reasons.
With talk in the Senate of a last-minute prescription drug compromise bill, at press time Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was watching for a chance to file the Jayne amendment (S. 2085) as an attachment to a viable health care bill. "If we can't include it in one bill, we will try to include it in another," a Collins aide said.
The House bill
"A hollow victory" is how Jayne described the House of Representatives' version of homebound restriction reform, passed on June 28 as part of the House prescription drug package.
Under current law, people receiving Medicare home health services (in-home skilled nursing assistance with bathing, feeding and other basic functions) may only leave home for "brief and infrequent" absences. New language passed by the House clarifies that absences "such as an occasional trip to the barber or a walk around the block" are permissible.
"This is a huge disappointment to what we were fighting for," said Jayne, who founded the National Coalition to Amend the Homebound Restriction, an online coalition of about 13,000 people and 46 organizations, including MDA.
Members of the MDA National Task Force on Public Awareness have also lobbied Congress to amend the restriction.
William Altaffer of Tucson, Ariz., a member of the MDA National Task Force on Public Awareness Steering Committee, added, "A trip to the barber or a walk around the block will do little to end the isolation or improve the quality of life for homebound Medicare patients."
To aid passage of the amendment in the current session of Congress, Jayne urges people to contact their senators or representatives.