By Susan Jaffe | Kaiser Health News
Looking for ways to save money and improve care, Medicare officials are returning to an old-fashioned idea: house calls.
But the experiment, called Independence at Home, is more than a nostalgic throwback to the way medicine was practiced decades ago when the doctor arrived at the patient’s door carrying a big black bag. Done right and paid right, house calls could prove to be a better way of treating very sick, elderly patients while they can still live at home.
“House calls go back to the origins of medicine, but in many ways I think this is the next generation,” said Dr. Patrick Conway, who heads the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which oversees Independence at Home.
In the first year of the experiment, Housecall Providers of Portland, Oregon, which had been operating at a loss, saved Medicare an average of almost $13,600 for each patient in the pilot project. Its share of the savings was $1.2 million. The house calls practice at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., cut the cost of care an average of $12,000 per patient.
Medicare reported overall savings of $25 million in the pilot’s first year, officials reported last June. From that money, nine practices earned bonuses totaling nearly $12 million, including a $2.9 million payment to a practice in Flint, Michigan.
After three practices dropped out, there are now 14 around the country participating in the project — including five sites run by the Visiting Physicians Association.
Medicare officials are expected to announce the second round of payments in June.
By all accounts, saving any money on these patients is a surprise. Independence at Home targets patients with complicated chronic health problems and disabilities who are among the most expensive Medicare beneficiaries. But a key study, published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, found that primary care delivered at home to Medicare patients saved 17 percent in health spending by reducing their need to go to the hospital or nursing home.
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