DHH's decision on hospice care for Medicaid recipients comes under fire

Published: Dec. 20, 2012 at 10:56 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2012 at 3:52 AM CST
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New Orleans, La. -- Health care advocates and members of the hospice industry are criticizing the state's decision to cut hospice services from its Medicaid Program.

"Effective Feb. 1, 2013, Medicaid will no longer reimburse for hospice services," said Kathleen Meyers, public information officer for the Department of Health and Hospitals in a statement released to FOX 8 News.

Medicaid patients already in the pipeline will not be impacted.  "They will continue to get these services according to their plans of care," stated Meyers.

Still, the decision is coming under attack.

"Their only option is to go to the emergency room, go to the emergency room, be admitted into a hospital, driving up those end of life costs," said Jamey Boudreaux, executive director of the Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Boudreaux said there are 140 hospices statewide.  "We provide care at a fraction of... four times less of what you're going to find in a hospital," he said.

He said costs to the government will surely rise if Medicaid patients are shut out of hospice services.  "Other states have looked at eliminating the hospice Medicaid benefit in the past, and they've all decided not to do so because of the cost savings that hospice provides," Boudreaux continued.

He is not alone in that assessment.

"[Hospice] lowers the ultimate costs of providing essential medical services to people who need them," said Jacques Morial of the Louisiana Consumer Healthcare Coalition.

"Hospice is designed to save money by allowing people to die at home with dignity and giving them pain medications and other things and if they're not getting those services at home they're going to end up in the emergency room," said Jan Moller, of the Louisiana Budget Project.

DHH said, instead of hospice care, Medicaid recipients with little time left could get nursing home care.

"For individuals in their last years, or days, and weeks of life, nursing homes do a very good job, and nursing-home-based care would still be available," said Meyers.

"It's certainly not a compassionate thing to do," stated Moller.

DHH said terminally ill patients on Medicaid will still have access to medications to relieve pain through Medicaid's Pharmacy Program.

Hospice also provides services to help patients and their families cope emotionally.

"The emotional support services previously offered as hospice care in community settings through Medicaid are eliminated in these cuts, but there are numerous non-profit and faith-based groups that provide these services at no cost throughout the state, which recipients will be able to access. DHH is currently engaging with these groups to help them connect with recipients who will need these services after the Feb. 1 elimination," continued Meyers.

DHH stresses that the changes do not impact Medicare patients.