Health Leaders Media and the blog Free Market Mojo wrote interesting articles about how Medicare policies increase hospice stays.  The Medicare hospice benefit is designed to provide visits by an interdisciplinary care team to better manage pain and other end of life issues and to provide psychosocial and spiritual support in the nursing home setting for residents and their families.

However, the length of an average Medicare-certified hospice stay in a nursing home has doubled during the last decade, researchers at Brown University have found.  Published in the August Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, their study finds that standard treatment time in nursing homes between 1999 and 2006 has increased from 46 to 93 days.   The study proves that nursing homes make more money by placing a resident on hospice because the standard daily payment rate for most Medicare hospice enrollment acts as an incentive for extended stays.

The study also found that the doubling of Medicare services in nursing homes is related to a 50% growth rate in the number of hospices—primarily for profit hospices.  Stays were longest in states with the greatest provider growth.  At the current time, a third of Medicare beneficiaries who die in nursing homes are accessing hospice services, and the study predicts that this number is expected to increase.

In addition to changing the rates of payment to reflect the proper timing of the more intense care needs, the researchers agree with a Medicare Payment Advisory Commission’s recommendation that procedures for determining hospice eligibility recertification should be strengthened.

These changes would help the Medicare system avoid the possible scrutiny of nursing home residents who live beyond the physician certified six month prognosis—a Medicare requirement for hospice eligibility—and would permit patients to access the hospice care when they actually need it. 

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