Thursday, July 06, 2006

Many hospice patients live longer than expected

Terrific story (via Kaiser Family Foundation's Daily Health Policy Report) about hospice:

McClatchy Newspapers/St. Paul Pioneer Press on Wednesday examined how some patients who check into hospices believing they are near death later go on to recover and leave hospice care. For Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries to cover hospice care, the patient's doctor and the hospice's doctor must agree that the patient will die within six months. About two-thirds of hospice patients die within 30 days, according to the National Center for Health Statistics at CDC. If a patient does survive six months but is not likely to survive another six months, the patient remains in hospice. Patients who survive six months are discharged if their condition has improved and stabilized enough that they are likely to live another six months. According to CDC data, an estimated 100,000 hospice patients will leave hospice care this year. One study estimates that about one-third of those who leave hospice die within six months of their release. About 5,000 to 20,000 hospice survivors annually "live on with evident satisfaction," while the remainder is transferred to nursing homes, according to McClatchy/Pioneer Press.

Experts say there are several factors that can lead terminally ill patients to recover enough to leave hospice care. In many cases, doctors inaccurately estimated how long a patient had to live, McClatchy/Pioneer Press reports. According to McClatchy/Pioneer Press, predicting how long a hospice patient will live might be more difficult today than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, when
three-quarters of hospice patients were admitted because of cancer. By contrast, nearly half of current hospice patients have dementia or heart, lung, kidney or liver failure -- which can make the length of a patient's decline less predictable. "Another theory ... is that pending death brings out the curative power of family and friends," McClatchy/Pioneer Press reports. In addition, some experts say patients might improve in hospice because they are receiving better care than before they entered facilities (Greve, McClatchy/St. Paul Pioneer Press, 7/5).

The article doesn't mention the ill-fated trial balloon from CMS a few years back, in which they proposed to recoup hospice benefits paid to Medicare beneficiaries who didn't die within 6 months!

Also: If you have trouble with the link provided above to the news article (I did!), try this one. Free registration may still be required, but at least the article (eventually) appears on your screen. . . .
posted by Tom Mayo, 8:37 AM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter