Hospice Patients Alliance: Consumer Advocacy

Review of News Article About
Exploitation of Hospice Patients

For profit corporations are making money taking care of hospice patients. Is that news? Well, it is if the patients are the terminally ill, and if patients are being exploited to achieve a big bottom-line. We at Hospice Patients Alliance receive numerous complaints from families of hospice patients from all over the country...complaints about lack of adequate care, failure to assure patient comfort, failure to provide complete information about services they are entitled to receive, etc.

A June 14, 1998 article in the Washington Post, "Hospices Big Business, Thanks to Medicare; Exploitation of some patients is alleged" written by Charles R. Babcock, details how the system works for some for-profit hospices. Salespeople are paid to go out and recruit patients and to recruit doctors who refer patients. Commissions are being paid to the salespeople who get more hospice patients signed up for the hospice! Does this sound like "compassionate" end-of-life care? .

The hospices get about $100 per day per patient for routine home care. The article goes on to say, "hospice care now serves 450,000 patients, grosses $2.5 billion a year and is Medicare's fastest-growing benefit." "...an aging U.S. population and the financial pressures of modern health care have brought the marketing tactics of corporate America into the cancer ward and cardiology unit."

"Things have changed so much in hospice since I started 10 1/2 years ago," said Geraldyne Habermehl, manager of Hospice of the Sunrise Shore in Alpena, Michigan. "It was pure hospice then. Now it's dog-eat-dog, dirty, competitive fighting. It was a service thing before. Now it's a money deal." Those who direct hospices know that Ms. Habermehl is telling the truth when she describes it as "dirty, competitive fighting." The public doesn't see this side of hospice, but those who go behind the scenes and try to get doctors, hospitals and nursing homes to refer to their hospice do know. Hospices are competing for the dying. More dying patients means more income, more money to make a profit, and provide services.

The article goes on to say, "Other recent developments in the hospice industry also have drawn increased attention from federal regulators, including evidence that some providers may be exploiting the terminally ill and taxpayers alike. Recent allegations of abuse suggest a "kind of innocence lost" for hospice, said George F. Grob, a Deputy Inspector General at the [U.S.] Department of Health and Human Services. Now, Grob added, the industry is grappling with the fact that it has "grown from a voluntary, philanthropic program to one where business and other motives were coming into play."

And the article stated, "This Spring, the [U.S.] Inspector General issued a "special fraud alert," warning that some hospices are suspected of paying kickbacks to nursing homes in order "to influence the referral of patients." In October, a federal grand jury returned the first hospice fraud indictment by charging a Chicago man with bilking the federal government by collecting more than $10 million in Medicare reimbursements while providing less than $2 million in hospice services to patients." One man, "allegedly paid nursing homes $10 a day for each patient signed up for hospice benefits with the assistance of compliant doctors who certified them as terminally ill without an examination."

The article goes on to say that, "Andrew Parker of American Hospice Management said the for-profits will lead a necessary consolidation in the industry. A brochure from Parker's company states: "Hospice represents an excellent opportunity for providers in many areas of the country to enhance revenue, expand service profiles, and conserve resources." The key to making money in hospice is "volume, volume, volume," Parker says."

Well, if the American Hospice Management association is so concerned about caring for the dying, why aren't they talking about how to increase "service, service, service?" They're not. It's a business. Time for all of us ordinary citizens to wake up and see the health care industry as it is.

You can contact the Washington Post at their website located at www.washingtonpost.com to get a copy of the original article which was several pages long and has more information.

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