Medicare

Hospice month celebrates success of nation’s first coordinated care model

Published in The Hill by Edo Banach, Opinion Contributor

While there’s no shortage of partisan disagreements on Capitol Hill, one hopes the combative environment that’s become the norm in Washington might take a brief pause now that midterm elections are behind us. At a time when unity and common ground are sorely needed in our politics and our policymaking, one health care program stands out as a reminder of how bipartisanship works at its best: the Medicare Hospice Benefit.

This extraordinary policy achievement was made possible by lawmakers who put aside their differences in the interest of the Americans they served. Enacted as a demonstration in 1978 and a Medicare benefit in 1982, hospice programs have served millions of Americans and their families with compassionate care to relieve pain, manage symptoms, supported beneficiaries and their family caregivers, and provided bereavement services for individuals following the death of a loved one. The benefit has been invaluable to patients and lifesaving for families. And it never would have happened without lawmakers who were committed to the concept, and to working together.

Democrats, including Sens. John Glenn (Ohio) and Bill Bradley (N.J.), joined with Republican senators like Bob Dole (Kan.) and Chuck Grassley(Iowa) to pass what then-Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) called a “political miracle.” Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) personally collected commitments from 68 senators to pass the Heinz-Dole-Packwood amendment to provide hospice services to terminally ill Medicare patients.

Not only did this bipartisan act show how a diverse group of legislators could come together for the good of the country but the hospice benefit itself has become an example of how our fragmented health care system can – and should – work together for the betterment of patients. As America’s original coordinated care model, hospice brings together a multidisciplinary team of providers to meet all aspects of a dying patient’s physical, spiritual and emotional needs. No other health care sector is required to address all aspects of a patient’s, and their family’s, health and wellbeing.

Those elected to serve in the upcoming Congress should know that hospice is a program that works and a Medicare benefit that matters to their constituents. As seasoned and novice legislators alike consider health policy reforms, they should look to the success of the hospice model as an example of preserving what works, and help expand access to comprehensive, coordinated care and person- and family- centered care to all patients with serious, advanced and life-limiting illness. We should also reinforce the foundation of hospice to ensure access, choice and quality care at the end of life.

Hospice is not only best for patients at the end of life, it is also good for the Medicare program. Study after study show hospice care improves quality of life, delivers on patient and family satisfaction and reduces unnecessary costs for Medicare beneficiaries at the end of life. Thirty-plus years later, hospice is a reminder that there are policy solutions that work for both sides of the aisle and across our nation for all Americans. The fruits of cooperation live on today in a Medicare benefit that serves 1.43 million Americans annually.

It’s sometimes unclear if the dust will ever settle in Washington, and if we’ll ever get back to a place of collegiality and bipartisanship in Congress. If our nation’s remarkable hospice benefit is any indication, great things can certainly happen if it does.

Edo Banach is President and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).

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Financial planning and Medicare

By Steven Merrell, Financial Planning: Let’s talk Medicare

If you are one of the 44 million Americans currently covered by Medicare, you probably know that Medicare’s annual open enrollment period just started. Between now and Dec. 7, you have the opportunity to make adjustments to your Medicare coverage.

Paying for health care is one of the biggest financial challenges many people face in retirement. If you are 65 or older, Medicare is probably an important part of your financial picture. However, if you are new to Medicare, you may be surprised by Medicare’s complexity and the gaps in your coverage.

You can choose between two general directions for your Medicare coverage: Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans. Original Medicare, in turn, is divided into two parts. Part A covers inpatient hospital care, skilled nursing facilities (when medically necessary), hospice care and home health care. Part B covers doctor visits and outpatient care and other medically necessary services like ambulance services, clinical research and durable medical equipment. Optional Part D covers prescription drugs and is purchased from private insurance companies.

Original Medicare does not cover everything. For example, while Part A covers hospitalization and skilled nursing facilities, it only covers acute care. If you need long-term care, also known as custodial care, Medicare will not cover it. Medicare also excludes most dental care, eye exams for prescription glasses, dentures, hearing aids and exams for fitting them, acupuncture and routine foot care. If you want to find out if your particular need is covered by Original Medicare, you can search for your item or service on the Medicare coverage website: www.medicare.gov/coverage.

Most people do not pay a premium for Part A, but they do pay a deductible of $1,340 for each benefit period and coinsurance for hospitalization. Part B premiums start at $134 per month but can be higher depending on your income. In addition, for Part B you will pay a deductible of $183 per year and coinsurance above that amount equal to 20 percent of the Medicare-approved charge for most doctor services, including the services provided by your doctors while you are in the hospital.

In a catastrophic scenario, there is no limit to the amount you can owe under Original Medicare. Consequently, many people purchase a supplemental policy, also known as Medigap insurance. Medigap insurance is issued by private companies, but the policies are standardized by law to comply with Medicare requirements. There are 10 standard Medigap policies available each with different coverage limits.

If you find this confusing, you are not alone. In fact, this confusion is why Medicare Advantage plans have become so popular in recent years. By law, Medicare Advantage plans are required to provide everything that is covered by Original Medicare. The only exception is hospice care, which continues to be provided by Original Medicare Part A.

Steven C. Merrell is an investment adviser and partner at Monterey Private Wealth Inc. in Monterey, CA. 

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Healthcare services, policies for end of life misunderstood says hospice leader

Reform burdensome Medicare regulations to improve end-of-life care

Published in The Hill By Norman McRae, opinion contributor – The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Research shows that more than a quarter of Americans have given little to no thought about how they want to die – or how they prefer to be cared for in their final days. As a hospice care provider for more than 32 years, sadly, this is not a surprise to me.

What too many don’t realize is that with heartfelt consideration and careful planning, death can be a profound, peaceful and personal journey. That is why it is so important that patients and their families have timely access to high-quality hospice care.

Given how warily our culture approaches death and dying, health care services and policies surrounding the end of life are often misunderstood. At the expense of comfort, precious time and countless dollars are spent chasing an elusive cure rather than approaching an end of life illness with peace and reflection.

Hospice care provides a holistic experience that focuses on the wishes and needs of the individual. The hospice model involves an interdisciplinary, team-oriented approach to treatment that includes expert medical care and comprehensive pain management but also includes emotional and spiritual support for the patient AND their family. It’s this philosophy that drew me to this field and what I and our team at Caris continue to practice and uphold today.

For more than 35 years, the Medicare Hospice Benefit has ensured older Americans at the end of life could access this philosophy of care. As Medicare’s original coordinated care model, hospice is a program that works.

While those in the hospice community have grown and adapted to meet the needs of those we serve these last 30-plus years, many of the regulations imposed on the Medicare Hospice Benefit are still outdated relics of the 1980s. Thankfully, members of Congress recognize the need to modernize and changes are on the horizon. We welcome updates to burdensome regulations that will improve the delivery of patient care, including the reduction of existing requirements that create needless and time-consuming administrative work for hospice programs. One positive example of this recently discussed on Capitol Hill is the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed rule to give more flexibility to physician assistants to re-certify patients who have been in hospice care for more than 180 days – a change broadly supported by the hospice community. We applaud efforts underway in Congress – including the Ways and Means Committee’s efforts to address and cut red tape in the Medicare program.

Policymakers should also consider reforms to make palliative care more widely available and hospice care available in a more timely fashion. This means that they must ensure that any proposed payment reforms do not threaten the integrity of the Medicare Hospice Benefit and the principles on which hospice care was founded.

During my tenure, I’ve seen plenty of change, and I imagine I’ll see more, maybe even policy changes to the Medicare Hospice Benefit. What all involved must remember is that any changes must compassionately consider protecting timely access to care while making sure that regulations are less rigid, duplicative and costly. Failure to implement commonsense reforms could unintentionally disrupt or delay patients’ access to high-quality end of life hospice care. Any new policies must continue to support the basic human right of quality end of life care and protect the values of hospice, the right of patient choice and the integrity of our care philosophy.

Norman McRae is on the board of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), chair of the Hospice Action Network (HAN) and the founder of Caris Healthcare in Knoxville, Tenn.

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How the Hospice Benefit Could Be Redefined

Published in Home Health Care News By Amy Baxter

As recent changes across the health care system over the last few years indicate that person-centered, interdisciplinary care can improve clinical outcomes, boost patient satisfaction and potentially lower overall costs, hospice care could see an evolution ahead.

Hospice has become known as the first truly interdisciplinary benefit, bringing together many types of care under one roof. As more alternative payment models (APMs), managed care organizations and Medicare Advantage plans seek more flexibility in caring for patients with a person-centered approach, hospice is similarly looking for a way into these increasingly popular care models.

Home Health Care News caught up with Edo Banach, CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), to discover how the association is helping push the boundaries of hospice care with a new advertising campaign aimed at consumers and lawmakers, and efforts to redefine the benefit. Banach, who has been at the helm of NHPCO for more than a year, has an extensive background of working closely with the regulations and innovations departments at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) before the hospice industry “came calling.”

Here’s where Banach believes hospice is going.

Overall, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen during your career in health care?

Banach: One thing that is positive is when I started working in health care 16 years ago, it was really hard. What I’ve seen is, back then, managed care companies weren’t falling all over themselves to manage coordinated care. You had a really more siloed system than you have now, pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA), pre-[Medicare] Part D.

Managed care companies can now pay for less medical benefits [by supplementing with non-medical benefits]. We’re getting more integrated. We are moving in the right direction. I want to make sure that the integration and technology is used as a tool to help supplement real, compassionate interdisciplinary care, not one-step-removed care.

So, you talk about hospice being a movement. Where do you see hospice moving to?

One way we see it moving is upstream, but it is an absolute shame that people have to give up so-called curative care in order to get palliative care, hospice. It shouldn’t be a choice. You should be able to get both.

I think when people get both, they often see the value of palliative care. There is a demonstration now called the Care Choices model, which is testing out if curative and palliative care saves money or not, [if it] is an improvement on quality or not, and that will be very helpful and telling.

My goal in the next couple years, if not the next couple months, is to create a pre-hospice palliative care benefit that will allow folks to benefit from person-centered interdisciplinary care, that you see in hospice, earlier. When they have a serious illness, [palliative care is] a pathway and a glide path to receive the full-on hospice benefit that they will eventually receive.

Most people are on hospice now for only a couple of weeks, if not a couple days.

Just like former First Lady Barbara Bush.

Yes, she took comfort care and passed away two days later. And I think that’s not enough time for the system of care to actually have the impact that it needs to have.

Part of it is the choice that people make. Do you want curative care or do you want palliative care? You should be able to get both, and I think that’s crucial. That’s something that we will get to.

What are your other top priorities?

The other thing is about the length [of stay]. The problem with Medicare fee-for-service [FFS] now is these black lines—if you’re on one side, it is OK, and on the other side it’s not. For home health it’s skilled, homebound, these are the things we talk about and auditors look at a lot. In hospice, it’s [about if] you have a prognosis of less than six months and a need for hospice care.

That six-month limitation is treated as a clinical issue. It’s not a clinical issue; it’s a budgetary issue. It doesn’t make sense anymore. Ideally, in a couple years we will have much more of a glide-path between [when a person is] going along swimmingly and getting whatever is medically necessary under Medicare and receiving interdisciplinary person-centered care under hospice.

And my hope is that interdisciplinary person-centered care actually becomes the rule rather than the exception. That’s how this movement will have worked. I don’t just want to reshape the hospice benefit, I want to reshape health care.

Seems like a big uphill battle to me, as new Medicare benefits really come along quite infrequently.

Yes and no. For this, it’s not actually as radical as it sounds. This is an APM that I expect will actually happen. There’s interest in it, we’ve had meetings about it. I am hopeful this is something that can be done.

You’re right, Medicare benefits come infrequently. But we are not talking about a new benefit here. We’re talking about flexibility to provide more person-centered care that is not the poked-and-prodded variety. And that’s exactly what is happening over at ACOs and in Medicare Advantage land. As that is happening and plans can now pay for supports and services, it will seem even less logical for FFS Medicare to be in this box. So I think it is imminent.

 

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Waiting Rooms Encouraged to Show Video with New Medicare Cards

Click for new video featuring the replacement IDs

Originally published in AARP’s Health Medicare Resource Center By Dena Bunis, AARP, March 2018

Medicare is asking doctors to play a new video in their waiting rooms to remind patients that the federal government will begin mailing them new identification cards next month.

The video gives beneficiaries a glimpse at what the new card will look like and explains why and how it was modified. Instead of a Social Security number, the cards will display an 11-digit Medicare beneficiary identifier, and they will no longer include gender and a signature.

Eliminating the personal details, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) officials say, will better protect an enrollee’s identity and guard against fraud.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) urges Medicare enrollees to make sure the agency has their correct address on file. You can go to socialsecurity.gov/myaccount or call 800-772-1213 to update your address.

Scammers with various ploys have already started to target the 58 million individuals who will be getting new cards. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that con artists are calling beneficiaries and pretending to be from Medicare, then trying to talk them into paying for the revised card. Medicare will never call and ask for any personal identification or money for the new cards. The cards are free and will be mailed to members’ homes.

Medicare beneficiaries in Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia will be the first enrollees to receive the replacement cards. The mailings will continue through 2019.

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Paying For End-of-Life Care

Baby Boomers Feel the Squeeze

Man Paying Bills

Concerns over the costs of healthcare are shared by almost every family across the country. Many baby boomers are providing care for their aging parents just as they are facing their own health care issues.

Yet, for almost 30 years, the Medicare Hospice Benefit has provided a model for financing end-of-life care that can bring great relief and support to families during one of life’s most difficult times.

This benefit covers virtually all aspects of hospice care with little out-of-pocket expense to the patient or family. As a result, the financial burdens often associated with caring for a terminally-ill patient are lifted.

Hospice care also offers supports to the loved ones of the patient; this brings an added level of relief to the dying person, knowing their loved ones are being cared for as well.

Hospice is paid for through the Medicare Hospice Benefit, Medicaid Hospice Benefit, and most private insurers.

Medicare covers these hospice services and pays nearly all of their costs:

Medicare will still pay for covered benefits for any health problems that aren’t related to a terminal illness.

Hospice Means More Medical Care, Not LessTeam of medical professionals

Hospice and palliative care involves a team-oriented approach to expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. Families making end-of-life decisions for a loved one need compassion and support, not financial worries. The Medicare Hospice Benefit helps alleviate these concerns.

To learn more, contact Houston Hospice at 281-468-2441 or 800-824-2911 or at info@houstonhospice.org.

To find a hospice or learn more about hospice care, visit Moments of Life at www.MomentsOfLife.org.

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