My family recently made a welcome discovery. It turns out that home healthcare for ALS patients is covered by Medicare.
The revelation came as we faced a dilemma: my care needs had eclipsed my wife’s capacity to provide them. We had wondered how we could be assured of proper care, in light of ever-evolving circumstances, without bankrupting ourselves in the process.
After seeking advice from doctors, nurses, therapists, agencies, and advocacy groups, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that tapping into our meager savings was our only option. And for 12 months, that’s what we did.
That is, until I heard, anecdotally, of an ALS patient receiving 28 hours of home healthcare, all paid for by Medicare.
That knowledge prompted a research campaign that yielded surprising results. I found that Medicare allows up to 35 hours per week of combined home healthcare, provided qualifying conditions are met.
The Medicare Benefit Policy Manual stipulates the basic criteria for home health coverage, with the following provisos:
- The coverage requires a “trigger.” The patient must have needs that are “medically reasonable and necessary” and “intermittent.” Intermittent means “you need care at least once every 60 days and at most once a day for up to three weeks.” The coverage can include skilled nursing, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, home health aides, medical social services, and medical supplies.
- Services must be ordered by a physician, under a written plan of care, and following a “face-to-face” meeting. Your physician needs to be fully onboard. They may have been previously unaware of the Medicare home healthcare benefit. And because recertification is required, their office workload will increase.
- The recipient must be homebound. This means he or she must lack the ordinary ability to leave home, without requiring the assistance of an individual or supportive device, and without expending “considerable and taxing effort.” Leaving the house for healthcare appointments, church services, weekly support group meetings, brief errands, occasional special celebrations, and daily short outings in the neighborhood park, are allowable.
- Care must be provided by a Medicare-certified home health agency (HHA). As with the physician, the HHA selection is critical, and the Medicare certification requirement narrows the list. Unfortunately, ignorance of the home health coverage criteria is prevalent in the HHA sector. Further, under Medicare’s Prospective Payment System, payment is made based on a predetermined, fixed amount, regardless of the actual mix of services and hours provided. So the more care an individual receives, the less profit the agency makes. This leads to some agencies attempting to reduce their weekly assistance, or forego the process entirely. I suggest “cold calling” some Medicare-certified HHAs to inquire if they have the staff to support a daily, Medicare-reimbursed plan of care. If they balk at the notion, or try to “correct” your regulatory understanding, simply move on. That’s what I did, and the fourth contact was a keeper.
- The care plan must undergo recertification every 60 days. For this reason, it’s important that the trigger not be finite. For example, if someone is treated for pressure sores, the coverage will end when the sores are healed. According to the Medicare Manual: “Skilled care may be necessary to improve a patient’s current condition, to maintain the patient’s current condition, to prevent or slow further deterioration of the patient’s condition.” Restoration potential is not the deciding factor, and there is no time limitation. For that reason, at present, my trigger is weekly physical therapy, to include range-of-motion exercises, which help to slow progression of the disease and maintain my current level of function as long as possible.
Should you decide to pursue this path, be prepared to encounter skeptics and naysayers along the way. You may have to educate, reinforce, cajole, argue, demand, and remind. But, at the end of the day, your (and your family’s) quality of life will be improved, and a fractured system will be made better. After all, it is your legal right, prepaid by you.
As for me, I am celebrating one year of twice-weekly skilled service visits, and daily aide assistance, with no out-of-pocket expenses.
Note: ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of ALS News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ALS.