The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) has asked U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to provide aid to providers for COVID-19 testing. The federal government and some states are increasingly instituting mandatory testing rules that apply to health care workers.
NHPCO has previously called for the allocation of $500 million dedicated to securing point-of-care tests for hospice employees, family members and visitors.
“Hospice professionals are out in the community, providing care in patients’ homes and in facilities where the individuals they serve live or are being cared for and it is essential to safeguard the health of people in these communities against possible transmission of COVID-19,” said NHPCO President and CEO Edo Banach. “Adequate funding for and access for testing supplies and equipment is necessary to protect all Americans during this challenging public health crisis.”
NHPCO’s request comes shortly after the release of an interim final rule from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) mandating testing for some individuals that visit nursing homes, including hospice staff.
Close to 18% of hospice care in the United States was provided in a nursing home during 2018, NHPCO reported. This is exceeded only by private residences and assisted living facilities. Many providers have had difficulty accessing their patients in nursing homes during the pandemic due to restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the virus.
Nursing home residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The sector has seen close to 200,000 novel coronavirus infections, more than 120,000 suspected cases and more than 20,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
Hospices nationwide, like many other health care providers, have struggled to obtain sufficient amounts of supplies due to rising demand stemming from the pandemic, including personal protective equipment and testing kits and related items, even as prices for those materials skyrocketed.
“We are grateful to the administration for providing the hospice and palliative care community resources and flexibilities that have enabled hospices to provide high quality care to their patients and families during this time of uncertainty,” Banach wrote in the letter to Azar. “However, with COVID-19 infection rates increasing and new testing mandates being imposed at the state and federal level, providers are experiencing a significant funding gap in payment for testing for their frontline hospice workers.’