friendly female doctor shaking hands with patients

The National Association for Home Care & Hospice and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization are blasting an article  on the hospice industry published earlier this week from the nonprofit investigative news website ProPublica.

In a joint press release Wednesday, the two associations accused ProPublica of giving readers “an inaccurate view of the Medicare hospice benefit, a uniquely person-centered program that brought comfort to 1.7 million Americans and their families in 2020.”

The ProPublica report focuses primarily on former hospice employees and whistleblowers at AseraCare —  now a division of Amedisys —  who accused the company of Medicare fraud of recruiting  patients for hospice who were not near death and “dumping” those who had overly long hospice stays. The article also criticized the nearly 40-year-old Medicare hospice benefit, claiming it rewards agencies for long stays and for providing too few visits to patients. The case ultimately resulted in a $1 million dollar settlement in 2020 with the U.S. Justice Department for violating the False Claims Act.

Both NAHC and NHPCO said they condemn fraudulent and abusive behavior, but said the vast majority of hospice providers remain true to the mission of providing “relief and comfort” to patients at the end of life.

“We must all do our part to ensure that hospice remains a viable choice for terminally ill patients and their loved ones,” NAHC President William Dombi said in the release. “Unfortunately, articles of this type may unwittingly discourage use of hospice care, thereby denying terminally ill patients and their families access to vital services that support and comfort them during and in the aftermath of one of life’s most difficult journeys.” 

The article comes at a time when the hospice industry is under increased scrutiny  due to an explosion of new agencies in a number of states including California, Arizona, Texas and Nevada. The growth has been a concern of NAHC, NHPCO and LeadingAge who jointly sent a letter to CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure last month seeking increased federal oversight of the industry. The state of California has already taken steps to curb growth in the industry there.

But despite those concerns, NHPCO COO and Interim CEO Ben Marcantonio said the hospice industry remains active and vocal about high quality hospice care.

“Every day, tens of thousands of hospice professionals dedicate their lives to helping millions of Americans through their end-of-life journeys, and each year more Americans choose hospice because it matters to them and their loved ones,” Marcantonio continued.