Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monthly Message from NHPCO's President and CEO Don Schumacher

July 2009

Exploring Multiple Pathways to Earlier Referrals

Our cover story this month draws needed attention to the myths surrounding palliative care. Much like hospice, palliative care is not being fully utilized within our nation’s healthcare system due to sheer misunderstanding on the part of patients and physicians. As the author notes, there are nearly one million patients who are dying in hospitals or other institutions each year who are unaware of the palliative care services available to them—care that would not only help them, but would also reduce hospital and pharmacy costs.

While it’s certainly our collective responsibility to help educate our communities about palliative care, we are missing a very important opportunity if we don’t do more—if we don’t expand into palliative care ourselves. In one of my first conference plenary addresses as president/CEO of NHPCO, I urged members to “think outside the Medicare Hospice Benefit box” and explore palliative care as a pathway to earlier referrals. I was not asking members to do something I had not done myself. While president/CEO of a hospice program in Buffalo, I was one of the first providers to integrate palliative care into our continuum of care and saw firsthand the many benefits of such expansion.

Today, with healthcare reform very much a reality and with CMS now looking at ways to serve more Americans more cost effectively, there is even greater reason to expand our expertise into other cost-effective services. Palliative care is a natural fit for hospice providers.

Opportunities at the National Level

This month’s secondary feature recaps findings from NHPCO’s recent Economic Impact Survey. Understandably, most programs reported a reduction in revenue, with reasons ranging from reductions in average daily census to expected reductions in philanthropic contributions and changes in payment rates. First, on behalf of NHPCO, my thanks to all of you who took time to respond. Secondly, NHPCO hears you.

While NHPCO can’t address all of the factors that are impacting your bottom line, we are committing significant resources to the one that poses the greatest threat to the majority of members—Medicare Hospice Benefit rates. In partnership with The Alliance for Care at the End of Life, protecting these rates remains our top priority (see page 16 for an update on our advocacy efforts). However, we are also exploring other ways to improve your bottom line through expansion of the Benefit. NHPCO’s Public Policy Committee recently approved two potential demonstration projects to examine concurrent care and transitional care, both of which would enable hospice providers to build relationships with patients and families earlier in the illness trajectory and, in so doing, improve hospice utilization.

A favorite expression of mine reminds us that there are, indeed, many paths up a mountain. In today’s hospice environment, we must be open—and willing—to explore them all.



For more information visit, http://www.nhpco.org

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