CMS: 3.3% rise in home health payment rates

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a 3.3% increase in Medicare payment rates to home health agencies for fiscal year 2004. The increase will bring an extra $340 million in payments to home health agencies next year. Home health payment rates are updated annually by the percentage change in the home health marketbasket index. CMS establishes the home health marketbasket index, which measures inflation in the prices of an appropriate mix of goods and services included in home health services. The updated payment rates are published in the July 2 issue of the Federal Register

In addition, on June 16, CMS launched "Home Health Information Resource for Medicare," a new on-line tool for home health agencies (HHAs) that’s available on the CMS web site. The resource center provides a comprehensive database that includes information on enrollment and participation, initiatives, policies and regulations, coding and billing, Outcome Assessment and Information Set, research, education, preventive services, program integrity, and Medicare secondary payers.

The web site also gives HHAs information for staying on top of the home care industry, with sections on the latest news and where to find it, home care contacts, and home health highlights. CMS created the page to "incorporate all home health-specific information in one place" and will update it regularly. To access the site, go to:

No quick end to nursing shortage, new report says

Although health care organizations are using innovative strategies to recruit and retain nurses and federal, state, and local government agencies are providing financial support to help alleviate shortages, the national nursing shortage will continue to be one of the greatest challenges to the health care industry for many years, according to a report issued by Fitch Ratings, an international credit rating agency based in New York City.

Because health care providers will continue to experience salary inflation and increasing benefit expenses, these costs will offset any savings from increased operational efficiency in other areas.

The "Nursing Shortage Update" report can be found at Click on "U.S. Public Finance," then "Special Reports."