Looming Obamacare cutback means many San Diegans may lose home health care

San Diegans in outlying areas lose home healthcare

SAN DIEGO - As Obamacare sets in, many San Diegans who live in outlying areas are potentially weeks away from losing their home health care.

Mission Healthcare is one of the last local companies who can bear the cost to send health care workers out to homes in places like Palomar Mountain, Alpine and Campo. Now, the company says with a looming 14 percent cutback under Obamacare regulation, these homes of injured, disabled and elderly San Diegans will be out of reach.

10News reporter Natasha Zouves visited the Campo home of Julie Nunez. Hours away from the city center, it is surrounded by nature; goats, chickens and horses roam her property. Nunez said since a devastating horse riding accident weeks ago, she has not seen outside of her walls.

"I remember getting on my mustang, and then I remember waking up on the ground," Nunez said.

She said of the pain, "I had no idea it was going to be that bad."

Eight screws and a metal plate had to be inserted to stabilize her broken leg. The injury has left Nunez unable to walk, use the restroom or shower on her own. A worker from Mission Healthcare comes out to her house to provide these vital services and to clean the wound.

"I'm used to being a strong, independent woman," said Nunez. "This is really embarrassing to not be able to take care of myself. But thank goodness for them. I don't know where I'd be without them."

Mission Healthcare warns that patients like Nunez will likely lose their coverage in a matter of weeks.

"I myself am a clinician, and it makes me sick to think that we're no longer going to be able to care for people in outlying areas," said Kerry Pawl with Mission Healthcare.

Buried in the thousands of pages of regulation in the Affordable Care Act, Section 3131 essentially describes a major cutback to Medicare Home Health Funding. A 14 percent cut will go into effect in January.

In September, 142 members of Congress wrote a letter expressing deep concern with this major cut, saying many, especially the elderly who live in underserved areas, will be devastated.

Mission Healthcare says the estimate of how many San Diegans will be affected is high. The company visited more than 30 patients in these outlying areas just this week.

"In outlying areas like Alpine, Jamul and Jacumba, this will be catastrophic for them," said Pawl. "They will be forced to get in a car and drive 20 or 30 miles to the nearest ER, where the cost will skyrocket. In the short term, this cut will save money, absolutely. But home health care remains the most cost-effective way to prevent major health issues that in an ER cost much, much more down the line."

Nunez said her nearest ER is more than 45 minutes away.

"It's so sad, but you see that back here all the time. We're forgotten about," said Nunez.

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