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Comfort Care For Patients Continuing Curative Treatments Becomes Reality

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

Some seriously ill patients struggling with pain and anxiety will soon have the option of receiving comfort care and symptom management alongside curative treatments.

The Medicare Care Choices Model, recently announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burrell, aims to help enhance patient autonomy at the end of life and provide a more holistic approach to medicine.

For years, seriously ill Americans have had to choose between supportive hospice care or curative treatments; the Medicare hospice benefit usually applies only to those with a life-expectancy of six months or less and who stop curative treatments. Fewer than half of eligible Medicare beneficiaries take advantage of it.

Beginning Jan. 1, Medicare and some Medicaid beneficiaries who qualify for coverage under the hospice benefit will be able to receive some supportive care services and curative treatments together.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burrell
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burrell

“This model empowers clinicians, beneficiaries and their families with choices and is part of our broader efforts to transform our health care system into one that delivers better care, makes smarter payments, and puts patients in the center of their own care,” Burwell said in a statement to Life Matters Media. “We want to do what we can to help families find the care that is right for their loved one.”

Due to “robust interest,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded the model from 30 Medicare-certified hospices to more than 140. The center also extended the duration of the model from three to five years.

As many as 150,000 eligible Medicare beneficiaries with advanced cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure and HIV/AIDS receiving services from participating hospices could benefit from this new option.

After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, CMS was authorized to begin exploring ways to provide better and more affordable end of life care.

Chicago Provider Chosen

A newly merged Chicago-area provider of comprehensive palliative medicine and hospice care has been selected to participate.

Sarah Bealles was selected to become president and CEO of the combined agency
Sarah Bealles, CEO of the combined agency

“This was something that the industry was waiting for for a very long time, a very long time,” said Sarah Bealles, CEO of the newly combined Horizon Hospice and Palliative Care, JourneyCare and Midwest CareCenter. “I’m very excited. The reality is that there is this gap in care for people with serious progressive illnesses who are either not yet eligible for hospice care, or who are eligible but are going through curative treatments as a barrier.”

Bealles said that she hopes the new model will not “diminish the current hospice benefit.” The nonprofit estimates it will serve more than 700 patients and families with this model during the next three years.

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the largest nonprofit membership organization representing hospice and palliative care programs and professionals, supports the model. However, it is important to note that the program does not provide full hospice care.

Judi Lund Person
NHPCO’s Judi Lund Person

“We’re very excited about it and think it’s a terrific idea,” said Judi Lund Person, Vice President of Compliance and Regulatory Leadership for the NHPCO in Alexandria, Va. “Instead of negating hospice care, it enables a slower transition for a patient to get accustomed to maybe the diagnosis they recently received or get used to the idea of hospice. Maybe more patients would elect their hospice benefits, because they are more comfortable with it.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services services declined to comment.

Hospice care aims to comfort dying patients by providing pain and symptom management rather than aggressive treatments. Hospice is most often used when curative treatments are no longer effective.

One Thought on “Comfort Care For Patients Continuing Curative Treatments Becomes Reality”

  1. I have been a hospice volunteer, and am familiar with many of the processes involved. I am also a retired health care professional, and have served thousands of people for almost 60 years. Palliative care and comforting concerns have always been paramount in my practices. Therefore, I recommend (I’d like to insist) that cannabis be made an integral part of concerned health care.

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