Congress has say in rehab care access

Physical rehabilitation has been in the spotlight lately. Recent news stories about U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords’ ongoing recovery from a gunshot wound focused on her continuing medical rehabilitation care. Journalist Bob Woodruff and his wife, Lee, continue to laud rehabilitation for advancing his recovery from a severe injury caused by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

Today, the spotlight needs to move to everyday people — like your mother, your uncle, your elderly neighbor — who may not have access to rehabilitation care in the future if they suffer a stroke, a brain injury or a simple broken bone. As part of the deficit reduction discussion, Congress is proposing cuts that would reduce patient access to quality, medically necessary, inpatient rehabilitation care, which in turn could potentially reduce the number of rehabilitation providers in this country.

Medical rehabilitation is the physical, occupational and speech therapy that a patient may receive after being in an acute-care hospital. Rehabilitation also includes specialized care provided by physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians and certified rehabilitation nurses.

The physical rehabilitation provided at post-acute care organizations, such as Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, helps patients who have strokes, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, joint replacements, broken bones and other injuries. Rehabilitation can improve the quality of life for patients with multiple sclerosis or other neurological conditions.

Rehabilitation for traumatic accidents and severe illness typically takes weeks or months, but the hard work is worth it for the patients, their families and the health care system in general. Rehabilitation improves patient outcomes by improving functional skills and restoring independence. Rehabilitation also reduces health care costs by maximizing patient health and preventing subsequent medical complications and hospital readmissions. In many cases, rehabilitation is the difference between returning to a productive life — whether it is work, school or home — or becoming dependent on relatives or institutions, such as nursing homes, for care.

A recently released Moran Co. report shows that the number of Medicare beneficiaries utilizing inpatient rehabilitation hospitals and units has dropped by 26 percent since 2004. This statistic is cause for alarm. These reductions in utilization clearly are linked to government policy changes that limit the type of sick or injured patients who may be admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital/unit.

Washington’s latest proposed cuts would further reduce access to rehabilitation. They include decreases in Medicare and Medicaid payments to inpatient rehabilitation providers, while further limiting the types of patients who may receive inpatient rehabilitation care. This would make it difficult for many older Americans to receive the quality, post-acute care that would allow them to return to their homes and families.

As the population ages and the baby boomers’ medical needs swell, access to quality inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation is not optional. I encourage you to read a recent article posted online by Lee Woodruff. . Lee watched as her husband went through the long road to recovery during rehabilitation . She brings a personal perspective to the importance of rehabilitation and the dangers of the proposed cuts.

One of the issues Lee emphasizes is that reducing the number of Americans who are able to access rehabilitation may ultimately lead to fewer rehabilitation facilities in this country. While Good Shepherd remains a viable, nationally recognized post-acute care provider, government regulations that restrict access and reduce reimbursements for patient care threaten our future. Good Shepherd’s senior leaders and board of trustees are working to meet the challenges presented by lower reimbursements and patient access issues, to ensure that our patients continue to receive the highest quality post-acute care.