Rising Hospice Care Costs ‘Challenge’ Medicaid, Medicare
The rising cost of hospice care is "challenging" providers, the federal Medicare program and state Medicaid funds, while the majority of Medicare beneficiaries eligible for end-of-life care are unaware that such services exist, according to a new report to Congress from the Alliance for Health Reform, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. The increasing costs of prescription pain-relieving medications contributed heavily to the jump in hospice care costs, according to Judi Person, president of the Carolinas Center for Hospice and End of Life Care. Prescription drugs for hospice patients accounted for 2% of daily hospice care costs in 1983, when the Medicare hospice program started, but that percentage now stands at 13%. In addition, more hospice patients are now receiving care in their final seven days of life, a "critical" increase as end-of-life services are more costly. Still, the Alliance for Health Reform, headed by Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), said the government "needs to do more to educate the public" about the availability and benefits of hospice care. The report says that just 10% of "middle-age and older" Americans are aware that Medicare pays for hospice care or that hospice care provides pain relief for people who are terminally ill. In addition, the report calls for increased efforts to inform minorities of the availability of hospice care. African Americans account for 13% of the nation's population, but only 8% of hospice patients. The Alliance said Congress needs to look at Medicare and Medicaid to determine if they can "offer broader, less fragmented and longer coverage for those near the end of life." Alliance Executive Director Edward Howard added that end-of-life care could become an "important part" of the Medicare prescription drug benefit debate, but that issue was "pushed far down the national political agenda" after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The News & Observer reports that although President Bush and Congressional leaders promised "action" on the issue this year, "nothing is on the horizon" (O'Rourke, Raleigh News & Observer, 12/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.