Hospice Enrollment Policies Contribute To Underuse Of Care

Hospice Enrollment Policies Contribute To Underuse Of Care

Posted on Sunday, January 6th, 2013 at 1:59 pm by Life Matters Media

Hospice enrollment policies contribute to the underuse of hospice care in the U.S., according to new findings published in the journal Health Affairs. Findings from the first national survey on hospice enrollment policies found 78 percent had at least one policy restricting care access for high-cost patients.

Although almost all Americans live within close proximity to a hospice, more than half of patients eligible for the care die without it. There are more than 3,500 hospice providers in the U.S.

Some 600 hospices were studied, and according to researchers, “patients with potentially high-cost medical care needs, such as chemotherapy or total parenteral nutrition,” had a greater likelihood of facing the restrictions. Limited enrollment policies were identified in both for-profit and nonprofit hospices. These restrictive policies include not receiving chemotherapy, total parenteral nutrition, blood transfusions, an intrathecal catheter, radiation therapy, tube feedings or requiring a primary caregiver at home.

“It represents a barrier to people who want hospice care but can’t receive it,” said lead author Melissa Aldridge Carlson, a palliative care researcher at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The aim of hospice care is to manage the pain and symptoms of the terminally ill so that their last days are spent with dignity. The care is not intended to treat the disease. Hospice is most often used when curative treatment is no longer effective, and a terminal patient is expected to live about six months or less. Medicare states that to elect the Medicare hospice benefit, an individual “waives the right to receive all other Medicare covered services for the terminal illness and related conditions.”

Hospices may restrict access because of current Medicare reimbursements, which account for more than 80 percent of hospice revenue. The reimbursements do not cover treatments related to a patient’s terminal illness, so a hospice must pay for it. As Carlson points out, the average per diem reimbursement is only $140 per day.

The researchers explain, “many patients with terminal illnesses can benefit from using oral chemotherapy for palliative rather than curative purposes; radiation; or blood transfusions for treatment- or disease-related low blood cell counts.” Any one of these treatments can cost more than $10,000 a month.

Open access policies allow enrollment of those who are not yet eligible for the Medicare hospice benefit, anticipating that they will remain with the hospice when they do become eligible. Patients receive the medical comfort and social support available through hospice while simultaneously retaining access to medical treatments for their disease.  Such patients may be covered by private insurance plans or pay for the care out of pocket.  However, initial reports indicate that the cost of caring for patients enrolled through open access policies is generally absorbed by the hospice provider.

The authors conclude that increasing the hospice per diem rate for patients who require complex palliative treatments and removing the Medicare hospice benefit limitation on concurrent care may enable more hospices to expand their enrollment to patients who need and want it.  Providing hospice services in a cost effective manner for those whose treatment plans include concurrent life-extending and palliative care is the subject of the a pilot project funded by section 3131 of the Affordable Care Act, although results for this pilot project are years from completion.

Feeding Tubes: Families Struggle With Decision

Posted on Saturday, November 24th, 2012 at 3:12 pm by Life Matters Media

Brown University, Joan Teno

Many families caring for seniors with advanced neurological disease face this dilemma: prolong their loved one’s life by artificial means via a feeding tube or stop feeding them altogether. Lisa Krieger’s new feature for Mercury News focuses on the billion-dollar feeding tube business and why some families regret their decision to opt for artificial nutrition.

One-third of nursing home residents suffering from dementia receive tube feedings, contributing to the $1.64 billion industry. However, some families and physicians insist the value of feeding tubes is overrated, since they provide little medical benefit and increase pain for those suffering from progressive neurological disease.

Source: mercurynews.com

“The number of nursing home residents with advanced dementia who get feeding tubes each year varies widely across states,” Krieger reports. The only comprehensive study on the matter found the average rate of use nationwide was 54 per 1,000 people.

Racial minorities are also more likely to opt for artificial tubes than whites. Life Matters Media previously reported that blacks are twice as likely than others to choose aggressive end of life treatments.

As medical costs continue to rise and the baby boomer population ages, views on artificial nutrition may be changing. “Decades after the tube achieved widespread use for people with irreversible dementia, some families are beginning to say no to them, as emerging research shows that artificial feeding prolongs, complicates and isolates dying,” Krieger writes.

For example, a 1999 study by Dr. Thomas Finucane of Johns Hopkins Medical Center found no evidence that feeding tubes prolong the lives of demented nursing home patients. They also didn’t prevent pneumonia or improve comfort.

Finucane’s analysis asserts: “We found no data to suggest that tube feeding improves any of these clinically important outcomes and some data to suggest that it does not… risks are substantial. The widespread practice of tube feeding should be carefully reconsidered…”

Most families, however, are accustomed to caring for their sick by feeding them, a reason why the decision to opt for or against artificial nutrition is especially emotional. “Food is how we comfort those we love; when all other forms of communication have vanished, feeding remains a final act of devotion,” Krieger writes.

Sometimes a terminally ill individual may not feel pain when a feeding tube is first inserted in the stomach. As the illness progresses and pain begins to get more intense, removing the tube becomes a moral debate. This quandary often comes as another surprise for families.

“It is amazing how long you can keep someone alive,” said Dr. Leslie Foote, medical director of Windsor Gardens Rehabilitation Center in California. “But we sure aren’t doing them any great favors.”

Despite some change in public opinion, families may not have the choice to reject feeding tubes. The fallout from the controversial 2005 Terri Schiavo case led the Catholic Church to order doctors at its hospitals to ignore patients’ advanced directives- even if they do not want artificial feeding. Catholic hospitals may mandate artificial nourishment.

In 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued the directive to more than 1,000 Catholic hospitals and nursing homes, as well as to all Catholic doctors.

“People with end stage dementia still possess human dignity. And that dignity must be respected,” said Vice- President of Corporate Ethics at Catholic Daughters of Charity Health System Gerald Coleman. Krieger insists that tube feeding constitutes ordinary care at Catholic hospitals.