Hospice stays shorter – Dispute over limits

More patients are using hospice services, but many are waiting until  just before they die to do so, a new federal report says

The report by the General Accounting Office says the number of Medicare patients using hospice more than doubled in the last decade, but 28 percent of them received care for one week or less, The New York Times reported Sept. 18.

Medicare patients in the hospice program received an average of 59 days of hospice care in 1998, down 20 percent from 74 days in 1992, William J. Scanlon, director of health care studies at the GAO, told the Times.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing today to investigate the decline.

“Too few people use the hospice benefit for too little time,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the committee chairman, told the Times. “That has to change.”

Under Medicare, patients can qualify for hospice care only if their doctors say they are expected to live for six months or less.

When some partients live longer, the government tried to force their hospices to pay back some of the money they had received from Medicare, the Times said.

In the face of growing controversy over that rule, the head of the agency that runs Medicare wrote a letter last week to 2,200 hospices saying that hospice beneficiaries are not limited to six months of coverage.

The issue is expected to be the focus of today’s hearing.

For full story, go to The New York Times.

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