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Hospice industry driving up Medicare costs

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Very long hospice-care stays are causing Medicare bills to surge. This was not the original idea of Medicare officials in covering hospice.

As The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Medicare’s hospice program … is supposed to be only for patients who doctors certify are likely to die within six months, or about 180 days. Today, care is routinely being extended not only to those with terminal cancer—the program’s original focus—but to patients with an array of ailments, including dementia, whose declines can take years.”

“Hospice-care providers are partly responsible for the expansion, sometimes canvassing nursing homes and other facilities for Medicare patients to persuade to enroll in hospice programs, according to hospice workers and regulators. Patients, their families and sometimes their doctors have ample reason to agree. For many, it entitles them to care that wouldn’t otherwise be covered by the federal government.

“The shift has fueled a steady increase in Medicare hospice spending, which roughly doubled over the nine years examined by the Journal, to about $15 billion in 2013. That growth shows how payment rules in the government’s program for seniors and disabled people can influence patient care in ways that weren’t intended.”

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