News From the End-of-Life: Medicare program touts hospice benefits

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is reminding physicians and long-term care providers of the substantial benefits provided by Medicare to patients and families facing the end of life.

In a two-page article intended to reach the nation’s doctors, home health care agencies, and nursing homes, the Medicare program explains how the Medicare Hospice Benefit works, the services it provides for patients, and why it is important for physicians to refer terminally ill patients to hospice care. CMS recently published "End-of-Life Care Enhances Dignity and Peace As Life Nears Its End" in The Physician Executive, Caring Magazine, and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

The CMS article emphasizes that "the Medicare program recognizes that terminal illnesses do not have entirely predictable courses, therefore the benefit is available for extended periods of time beyond six months. . . . There is no reason for a physician to be concerned about certifying an individual for hospice care who he or she believes is terminally ill," the article says.

Hospice provides generous benefits’

Jonathan Keyserling, public policy vice president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in Alexandria, VA, called the article’s publication good news for an aging nation. "For Americans to receive the care they need, it’s imperative that the medical community, patients, and families are well informed of all their options at the end of life," Keyserling said. "The nation’s hospices and palliative care programs applaud and welcome the efforts of CMS to raise awareness of hospice’s generous benefits and essential services.

"Over the past 20 years, the Medicare Hospice Benefit has dramatically improved the way people die in America," Keyserling said. "But for every one patient served by hospice, NHPCO estimates that two more could benefit. That means that too many people are dying without the aggressive pain control, symptom management, emotional support, and bereavement counseling that hospice provides. With more than 3,100 hospice programs in the United States and the broad eligibility for the Medicare Hospice Benefit, everyone who needs it should be able to access hospice."

Under the Part A reimbursement system, the Medicare Hospice Benefit provides a wide range of services at little or no cost to patients and families, including: physician services, nursing care, medical appliances and supplies, prescriptions for symptom management and pain relief, short-term inpatient and respite care, homemaker and home health aide services, counseling, social work services, spiritual care, volunteer participation, bereavement services, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech/language pathology services.