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IA- Hospice industry decries Medicare cuts

5-23-2009 Iowa:

The president of a group representing the nation's hospice care industry says one of Iowa's two senators is supporting a bid to rescind a rule that cuts federal payments to hospices.

Don Schumacher, president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, says last year the Bush Administration enacted a rule which cut payments to hospices for treatment of elderly patients who're on Medicare.

"We're trying to make consumers aware all around the country that hospice care, which is one of the most successful choices for care at the end of life, is experiencing some potential difficulty in that as the Bush Administration left office last year they instituted a regulation that's cutting hospice reimbursement by $2.2 billion," Schmacher says.

Specifically, Medicaid payments for hospice care were cut by just over four-and-a-half percent.

"We did an economic survey of our members over the last couple of months and it shows that even without this rate cut the economic picture right now has hospice programs struggling 'cause of the tremendous costs and the reimbursement really, essentially being on the low end as it is," Schmacher says, "and this is an additional cut to us which will cost us dramatically."

Congress reversed the reduction in Medicaid payment rates for hospice care for this year, but Schmacher's group is now lobbying congress to keep hospice care rates the same for the next two years. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has signed onto a letter, urging the Obama Administration to make the move. Hospice groups are asking Iowa's other senator, Chuck Grassley, to join the effort to keep hospice care payments for Medicare patients the same for the next two years.

"It's quite a bit of change for programs to lose," Schmacher says.

According to Schmacher, it makes economic sense for Medicare patients to choose hospice care.

"A study came out of Duke University two years ago and it shows that for every patient admitted to hospice, we save the Medicare system about $2200 to $2500 when compared with patients of similar disease and life trajectory," Schmacher says. "...Everybody who goes through hospice, for the most part, feels as though they received the opportunity to say good-bye in the most appropriate way possible."

The Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Iowa represents 74 hospice agencies providing end-of-life care at 103 different facilities in Iowa. Schumacher leads the national group which represents about 80 percent of the hospices in the United States. ..Source.. by O.Kay Henderson

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