Sunday, July 20, 2008

Fueling the Health Train Express

Quote of the day:
Where all think alike, no one thinks very much. - Walter Lippmann

Home health agencies, hospice services are feeling the effects of rising fuel prices, and in some cases workers and agencies are considering withdrawing from far flung rural locations that requiring long drives.  In some cases companies issue pre paid gas cards to employees as a perk.  Mileage allowances by the IRS now are far outdated, and medicare reimbursements for home health care do not consider regional differences nor the expense of transportation for home health care workers.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Stethoscope? Check. Bandages and medications? Check. Money for fuel? Uh-oh.

U.S. home health care workers, particularly those in rural areas, are suffering from financial headaches caused by the escalating cost of transportation, forcing some to borrow cash from co-workers in between paychecks and others to consider leaving the industry altogether.

Providers of home care in New York, California and other states are doling out prepaid gas cards, rental cars and other perks in an effort to retain their workers, who care for roughly 12 million elderly and disabled patients nationwide and drive an estimated 5 billion miles a year, according to a recent study by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice.

The industry is also contemplating abandoning uneconomical home visits in far-flung locations, and increasingly checking patients' blood pressures, heart rates, blood-sugar levels and other vital signs via remote monitoring systems, which many companies previously deemed too expensive.

Industry officials said they had not heard of any instances where a patient's care was compromised by the high cost of getting a health care professional to their home, though they are worried it could happen. After some home health providers threatened earlier this year to cease operations in rural parts of South Dakota, Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson said he would push Congress to revamp the Medicare payment system to account for the industry's rising fuel prices.

Donald Wagoner, a nurse who travels up to 100 miles a day traversing New York's Adirondack region, said his newest professional challenge these days is simply not running out of fuel. "I've come close a couple of times," said Wagoner, who drives a Saturn Vue SUV that gets around 25 miles to the gallon

These new economic pressures may allow remote monitoring information technology a more competitive edge.

For its part, the Home Care Technology Association of America is lobbying Congress for changes in Medicare to allow companies that use remote monitoring systems to get reimbursed for it — a major reason more companies haven't embraced the technology

Home Health Care figures

Each year, U.S. home care workers...
• Care for about 12 million patients.
• Make 428 million visits.
• Drive nearly 5 billion miles, a distance about the same as going 192,920 times around the Earth

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