A coalition of hospice industry groups has written to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking Congress to take legislative action to help hospices endure the ongoing pandemic and continue to provide care to patients and families.
The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, National Partnership for Hospice Innovation, the Visiting Nurse Associations of America/ElevatingHOME, and LeadingAge were signatories on the letter.
“America’s hospice providers deeply appreciate Congress’s swift and effective efforts to combat the COVID-19 crisis,” the coalition stated in the letter. “Hospice providers stand ready to continue to offer expert advice on how to support to patients and families in the community during this public health crisis, and we look forward to continued collaboration with Congress to ensure quality serious-illness and end-of-life care for all Americans, and a robust Medicare Hospice Benefit for years to come.”
Among the Congressional actions the groups requested was approval to use telehealth to perform face-to-face encounters to recertify hospice patients. This is of major concern to most hospices as they seek to limit non-essential physical contact as the nation practices social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has not responded to Hospice News regarding the likelihood of approving telehealth for face-to-face encounters, but the NHPCO indicated in a message to its members that the agency told the advocacy group that it is considering, but has not decided upon, taking such action.
The coalition also called for a temporary suspension of end to the 2% sequestration of hospice payments through the end of fiscal year 2020 or Dec. 31 to help alleviate the excess costs providers are incurring due to the outbreak. This includes losses due to falling admission rates, staff leaves of absence, the cost of additional personal protective equipment, the need for additional contracted personnel, and other unforeseen expenses.
“Any future stimulus package should include money to pay for current increased costs that programs are spending on patient and staff safety and to mitigate losses so that these essential agencies can continue to operate into the future,” the signatories indicated in the letter.
The coalition also called for a suspension of audit activity while the crisis is ongoing, as well as stipulations for the use of volunteers and flexibilities pertaining to the continuous home care level of care.
“In the current environment, there is heavy payment audit activity in the hospice community from a variety of entities. In order to respond to these audits, hospices spend a lot of time and dollars that currently should be spent on responding to the needs of communities with COVID-19,” the letter stated. “We therefore ask that audit activity be suspended to make sure that hospice organizations can focus all of their administrative and clinical efforts on that response.”