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Extending hospice – Feds address criticism

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A storm is rising over Medicare coverage of hospice care for dying patients who live beyond Congress’ six-month deadline.

The outgoing head of the agency that runs Medicare wrote to 2,200 hospices this week to clear up what she called a “disturbing misperception” among hospice providers that patients who outlive the deadline can lose their coverage and face tough financial penalties, The Wall Street Journal reported Sept. 15.

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” said Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who heads the Health Care Financing Administration. “Let me be clear: In no way are hospice beneficiaries restricted to six months of coverage.”

The letter was sent as the Senate Special Committee on Aging prepares to hold a hearing Monday that is expected to focus on the six-month rule and whether terminally ill patients may have been unfairly denied access to hospice care, the Journal said.

Kathleen Foley, a pain specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, asked the Journal whether DeParle’s letter was “rhetoric or reform.”

Many patients with Alzheimer’s or multiple sclerosis want hospice care but can’t get precise answers about when they will die, she said, and many cancer and AIDS patients live longer than expected with the help of new treatments.

“We need eligibility criteria that aren’t time-dependent,” she said.

At the same time, journalist Bill Moyers, whose four-part series on dying aired this week on PBS, has helped launch more than 200 community-based coalitions to raise public awareness of the end-of-life care issues examined in the documentary, Time magazine reported in its Sept. 18 issue.

With funds raised from some of their traditional nonprofit and corporate backers, Time said, Moyers and his wife, Judith, are spending as much on the education and outreach effort as they did on producing the series: $2.5 million.

For full story on Moyers, to Time.

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