Hospitals can care for Medicare patients at home in pandemic

Health Minute

Hospitals will be allowed to care for Medicare patients in their own homes during the pandemic under a government program announced Wednesday to help hospitals deal with the latest surge.

Some hospitals already offered patients with private insurance the choice of getting care at home instead of in the hospital. The pandemic dramatically boosted use of such programs.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said it will let hospitals quickly launch home programs, which will offer around-the-clock electronic monitoring for Medicare and Medicare Advantage patients who are sick enough to be hospitalized, but don’t need intensive care.

COVID-19 patients are eligible. Six health systems already offering “hospital-at-home” care were approved to participate in the Medicare program immediately.

“We’re at a new level of crisis response with COVID-19″ and this option will help hospitals increase their capacity to help more patients, CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement.

Hospitals would need to meet certain standards to participate. Those include providing twice-daily visits by medical workers and equipment such as blood pressure and oxygen-level monitors, and keeping patients connected via an iPad or other device to a command center should they need help. Medicare would pay hospitals the same rate as for in-hospital care.

Earlier in the pandemic, CMS expanded coverage for telemedicine appointments and launched a program paying for care in field hospitals and hotels.

“This will help health systems create capacity to care for patients during the surge,” said Dr. Bruce Leff, a geriatrics professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and a home hospital pioneer.

He said hospital-at-home programs have proven benefits for patients and can prevent complications they might experience in a hospital.

Leff helped CMS plan the program, along with experts at major hospitals already running such programs and three companies that contract with hospitals to run programs for them: Medically Home, Contessa Health and Dispatch Health.

Since the pandemic began, all three companies have reported a surge of new, privately insured patients choosing to stay at home, where they can be more comfortable and have family around.

Medically Home Chief Executive Rami Karjian said he hopes elderly patients who might defer care during the pandemic “will now get the care they need.”

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Follow Linda A. Johnson on Twitter: @LindaJ_onPharma

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