Rural Access to Hospice Bill Expected to Pass

First proposed in 2017, the Rural Access to Hospice Act is expected to pass the 116th Congress due to widespread bipartisan support, according to hospice policy advocates.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), reintroduced the legislation last week. If enacted it would remove a statutory barrier in current law, allowing patients to receive hospice care from their local trusted primary care practitioner.

“[The legislation] is important to our community and an important part of our legislative agenda for the year. We are confident that this will pass this year,” Hannah Yang Moore, chief advocacy officer for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) told the assembly at the advocacy group’s annual Advocacy and Leadership Conference in Washington today.

Under current law, rural health clinics (RHCs) and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) cannot bill Medicare under Part B for hospice services, which prevents some patients from receiving care from their trusted primary care practitioner. The Rural Access to Hospice Act would allow RHCs and FQHCs to receive payment for practitioners’ services while caring for their patients in hospice care. The bill is currently before the Senate Finance Committee.

“I am championing this bill because I believe that the mission of hospice is critical to preserve increase access to hospice and palliative care for all Americans,” Capito told the assembly in a video message.

According to data from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), only 32 percent of those eligible for hospice care utilize the service in rural communities compared to 48 percent in urban areas.

Speaking at the conference, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said that issues related to hospice provide an opportunity for common ground between often fractious political parties.

“The issues that you are dealing with on hospice care is certainly one for which there is strong bipartisan support. We know what you do saves us money. We know what you do is what people want,” he said. “Rural America needs these services, and it’s tough to get today. So it makes sense to expand opportunities in the rural parts of our country.”

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