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NHPCO Statement on MedPAC Recommendations to Congress

ALEXANDRIA, Va., Feb. 27 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization released the following statement upon the release of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission's (MedPAC) March report to Congress. The report includes recommendations to revise the Medicare hospice benefit.

Each year, more than 1.4 million patients and family caregivers seek hospice care. The Medicare hospice benefit is responsible for millions of people living as fully as possible until the end of life. The hospice community is dedicated to not only preserving the benefit, but enhancing it so that hospice is able to continue to appropriately serve the unique and changing needs of dying Americans. Hospice and palliative care providers, through the support that comes from Medicare, are recognized as the leading providers of the interdisciplinary, holistic care considered to be the "gold standard" of end-of-life care.

Hospice care is also cost-effective. As was reported in a 2007 Duke University study, hospice reduced Medicare costs by an average of $2,300 per patient, amounting to a $2 billion savings in a single year.

Statement on MedPAC's Recommendations for Hospice Reform:

"Over the past several years, MedPAC has undertaken a review of the Medicare hospice benefit. While specific reforms and enhanced accountability measures are laudable and should be encouraged, those changes should be framed in the context of a comprehensive review of the various and complex components of end-of-life care, and how the continuum of care can be expanded to increase access for patients and families. Included in this comprehensive review of hospice should be payment methodologies, fiscal constraints review, alternative eligibility criteria, testing of new models of care, as well as any number of other issues. The hospice community is committed to work toward these goals.

"Guiding this review ought to be several clear principles. Among them are:

  • Advancing hospice and palliative care programs as the recognized providers of end-of-life care;
  • Preserving and enhancing the Medicare hospice benefit;
  • Recognizing "high quality" as the standard to which all providers must subscribe;
  • Ensuring accountability through transparency and fair regulatory scrutiny; and
  • Promoting increased access through expansion and collaboration.

"Payment policy is one of the areas of the Medicare hospice benefit that needs to stay current, so that payment appropriately recognizes changes on patient demographics and treatment protocols. Updates should be carefully considered and evidence-based to ensure that behavioral consequences are understood prior to implementation. The present payment methodology has served the hospice community and the public well since its inception, virtually without change. Analysis of both current and historical patient level data is necessary to fully understand and predict future behavior and needs, and make changes that continue to provide benefits to patients and to the Medicare system.

"As with any payment system, dramatic changes to the hospice benefit from established patterns of reimbursement are sure to produce displacements and unintended negative consequences. Given the nature of hospice referrals and the unique characteristics of the end-of-life patient demographics, unintended consequences of such changes are inherently difficult to predict. Any number of issues might warrant attention, but effectively quantifying such items in terms of behavior changes of patients and providers would be difficult. Payment reforms should be incremental, based on adequate data analysis, and need to be undertaken carefully, with effects on the patient and family in mind.

"The hospice community applauds the open and informed process that MedPAC undertook to produce the recommendations, and looks forward to working with the Commission, appropriate oversight agencies, and Congress to ensure that the Medicare hospice benefit continues to serve patients at the end of life in the compassionate and high-quality manner that they deserve and expect."

SOURCE National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
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