Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Home Health Aides Face 10% Pay Cuts

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Home Health Aides Face 10% Pay Cuts

Article excerpt

One of the companies that manage the state's Medicaid program plans to cut reimbursements for care provided to elderly and sick residents in their homes.

Home health agencies said the proposal to drop reimbursement rates to 1991 levels could mean workers would be earning about minimum wage. They worry this could lead to an exodus of experienced employees from the already low-paying field at a time when the state is trying to encourage programs to help the elderly remain in their homes rather than move into institutions.

Horizon NJ Health - the largest of the four managed-care companies that administer the state's Medicaid system - recently informed home-care providers that it would be decreasing the hourly reimbursement rate to $13.95, a 10 percent drop from the current $15.50 level.

"There's no way people can do business at these rates," said Eleanor Frenkel, interim executive director of the non-profit Visiting Homemaker Home Health Aide Service of Bergen County.

Employees "work very hard taking care of our clients, and you can't get that kind of dedication for minimum wage," she said. "What you'll get are people who are flipping burgers one day and doing this on another day."

In response to the outcry from providers, Horizon has delayed the rate change until Nov. 1 so it can hold meetings with home health agencies to discuss possible alternatives. The delay will give agencies "time to understand the ramifications of the rate change as well as share their ideas for alternative solutions," said Thomas Vincz, a spokesman for parent company Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Advocates said the rate cut - particularly if it is adopted by the three other insurers in the program -- could jeopardize the state's ambitious plan to create more options for the elderly and chronically ill to be cared for in their own homes rather than in nursing homes or other institutions. …

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