Tuesday Roundup: Rural Home Health Care

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Home health care providers in rural areas would be eligible to receive Medicare payments for remote monitoring of patients under a bill introduced this week by Sen. John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota. 

A similar bill has been introduced in the three previous sessions of Congress and has gone nowhere, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity. This year, however, the bill faces no opposition and has been referred to a friendly committee. Kimberly Leonard and Josh Israel report:

Historically, home health care has involved nurses traveling to patients’ homes several times a week to monitor their condition and provide appropriate treatment. “Telehealth,” or the use of audio and video technology, allows home health agencies to monitor patients’ blood pressure, heart rate, and other vital signs to fill gaps between visits. It also allows patients to communicate with their providers remotely.  

Supporters say this technology will reduce hospital readmission, give patients greater independence, and improve health, by allowing senior citizens to live at home longer prior to or instead of requiring nursing home care. They also believe the monitoring technologies themselves could help reduce home health visits somewhat, saving Medicare money.

•Would the AT&T purchase of T-Mobile really be a good deal for rural America?

That’s AT&T’s pitch, saying if regulators allow the two giants to merge the resulting company will speed the spread of wireless broadband in unserved rural areas. AT&T says it would increase its coverage to 95% of the U.S. population, “especially into rural areas, satisfying a key technology goal of the Obama administration,” the Washington Post writes. 

The reaction to the merger has largely been about competition — or, rather, the lack of it should the second and fourth largest firms combine. To overcome anti-trust fears of regulators, Business Week quotes an analyst who says the government may “force AT&T to build out more rural networks or provide data roaming to rural carriers.” Republicans in Congress are balking at spending more for broadband, so why not get AT&T to pick up some of the slack?

• Bluesman Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins died Monday at the age of 97. Perkins was the oldest-ever Grammy winner when he won the award last month for the best traditional blues album.

Perkins died at his home in Austin, where he has lived for the past several years. But Perkins was born and reared in the Mississippi Delta with such legends as Robert Johnson and Son House and played for Sonny Boy Williamson’s King Biscuit Boys and Muddy Waters’ last great band.

Perkins was born in Belzoni, Mississippi, and grew up on a plantation in Honey Island. “I grew up hard,” he said in a 2008 interview with No Depression, the American roots music magazine. “I picked cotton and plowed with the mule and fixed the cars and played with the guitar and the piano.”

“What I learned I learned on my own,” he continued. “I didn’t have much school. Three years.”

Perkins learned to play guitar first, but switched to piano after his left arm was hurt by a knife-wielding patron.

Elton John, Billy Joel and Gregg Allman all said they were influenced by Perkins’s style of playing. 

• AP reporter Matt Volz reports that rising fuel and food costs hit rural families with a “double whammy.” 

• Meat prices are likely to continue rising. Wholesale food prices rose more this February than in any February since 1974. Meat prices were up 1.9 percent. 

With corn prices rising and a lack of cattle in the pipeline (herds are at their lowest levels since 1958), Dan Piller says beef prices will continue to edge up. There is simply not enough supply to meet demand. 

• The Congressional Research Service has produced its analysis of the livestock marketing rules proposed by the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration.

The so-called GIPSA rules have been controversial. The CRS summary is a good way to begin to understand the extent of these rules. 

• Quinoa is close to the ideal food, which is not helping Bolivians, where the grain is grown.

Demand for the crop is so strong that Bolivia is exporting quinoa that it used to eat. Bolivian farmers earn more and use their new income to eat cheaper, processed food, reports the New York Times. And they eat less of the grain that NASA scientists found to be unrivaled for its life-sustaining nutrients. 

Local consumption of quinoa is down by 34 percent over the last five years. 

 

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