Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Health Care Reform Bill Has Moved Through Congress and Signed by President Obama

A Quick Recap

For more than a year, the hospice community has been on the edge of our collective seat, watching the political process that has consumed health care reform. First there were three bills, and then the House and Senate each settled on one version they each wanted to put forth.  At the end of 2009, we were waiting to see if and when the White House would weigh in and choose a direction to pursue toward passage. At the same time, Republican leadership continually urged for a re-start of the process, from scratch. Along the way, we lost Senator Ted Kennedy, a long time health reform champion and a very good friend of the hospice community. We’ve also had multiple changes in leadership of the committees with jurisdiction over health care reform. To say that this journey has been a winding road is an understatement, but with each curve, Hospice Advocates have been very clear and unified in our messaging to Congress. During this process, we have sent Purple Folder Letters to the White House by the dozen, filled up the White House Comment Line, and contacted Congress (more than 70,000 contacts) so much that they probably recognize you by name!, Now this part of the process is drawing to a close. In the past 24 hours, Congress has moved into the final stages of this round of health care reform.
What Passed and What it Means for End-of-Life Care

Sunday night, by a vote of 219-212, the House passed H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. H.R. 3590 is actually the version of health reform that originated and passed out of the Senate last December. This version of the bill, the one that has now passed both chambers of Congress, softens the productivity cuts to hospice from a proposed $10 billion to $7.8 billion. Here’s an overview of what is in the final package relevant to end-of life care:

  • Market Basket Cuts & Productivity - Incorporates a productivity adjustment reduction into the market basket update beginning in fiscal year 2013, as well as a market basket reduction of .3 percent for hospice providers from fiscal years 2013-2019.  Note that these cuts will not take effect until FY 2013.
  • Hospice Payment Reforms – (1) This provision would require the Secretary to collect data and update Medicare hospice claims forms and cost reports by 2011.  (2) Based on this information, the Secretary would be required "implement revisions to the methodology for determining the payment rates for routine home care and other services included in hospice care" no earlier than FY 2013.  (3) After January 1, 2011, a hospice physician or nurse practitioner must have a face-to-face encounter with each hospice patient to determine continued eligibility for hospice care prior to the 180th-day recertification and each subsequent recertification, and attest that such visit took place.  In addition, the Secretary will medically review certain patients in hospices with high percentages of long-stay patients.
  • Medicare Hospice Concurrent Care Demonstration Program - Directs the HHS Secretary to establish a three-year demonstration program that would allow patients who are eligible for hospice care to also receive all other Medicare covered services while receiving hospice care. The demonstration would be conducted in up to 15 hospice programs in both rural and urban areas and would undergo an independent evaluation of its impact on patient care, quality of life and spending in the Medicare program.
  • Curative and Palliative Care for Children in Medicaid and CHIP - Allows children who are enrolled in either Medicaid or CHIP to receive hospice services without foregoing curative treatment related to a terminal illness.
  • Independent Payment Advisory Board - Creates an independent Payment Advisory Board tasked with presenting Congress with comprehensive proposals to reduce excess cost growth and improve quality of care for Medicare beneficiaries as well as the private health system. When Medicare costs are projected to be unsustainable, the Board’s proposals will take effect unless Congress passes an alternative measure that achieves the same level of savings. Congress would be allowed to consider an alternative provision on a fast-track basis. Requires the Board to make non-binding Medicare recommendations to Congress in years in which Medicare growth is below the targeted growth rate.  Beginning in 2020, requires the Board to make binding biennial recommendations to Congress if the growth in overall health spending exceeds growth in Medicare spending.
  • Hospice Value Based Purchasing/Promoting High Value Health Care - Provides the Secretary of HHS the authority to test value-based purchasing programs for long-term care providers, including hospice providers, no later than January 1, 2016.
  • Quality Reporting - Requires hospice to report on quality measures determined by the Secretary (endorsed by the new quality measure consensus-based entity) or face a 2 percent reduction in their market basket update. Measures published in 2012 for reporting to begin in 2014. 
  • Nationwide Program for National and State Background Checks on Direct Patient Access Employees of Long-term care Facilities and Providers - Establishes a national program for long- term care facilities and providers to conduct screening and criminal and other background checks on prospective direct access patient employees.
  • Advancing Research and Treatment for Pain Care Management - Authorizes an Institute of Medicine Conference on Pain Care to evaluate the adequacy of pain assessment, treatment, and management; identify and address barriers to appropriate pain care; increase awareness; and report to Congress on findings and recommendations. Also authorizes the Pain Consortium at the National Institutes of Health to enhance and coordinate clinical research on pain causes and treatments. Establishes a grant program to improve health professionals’ ability to assess and appropriately treat pain. 
  • Education and training programs in pain care - Secretary may make grants available to hospices and others to develop and implement pain care education and training programs for health care professionals. 

You may still hear talk of the reconciliation bill over the next week or two. More information on that package and the related legislative process can be found in our previous health care reform update. However, we feel confident that all of the health reform provisions that will impact hospice are contained in the package that passed yesterday and are listed above.
We’re Still Fighting
While we appreciate the fact Congress continues to embrace hospice as a vital part of health care at the end of life and we’re pleased to see the provisions included expanding access to hospice, we simply can’t afford to lose $7.8 billion from the national investment in end-of-life care. 
We have said it all along; two cuts are too much for hospice. And, we mean it. The productivity cuts on top of the more than 4 percent regulatory reduction associated with the elimination of the budget neutrality adjustment factor (BNAF) we are absorbing over the next seven years, is more than the community can or should sustain. As an aside, you, as a Hospice Advocate, working through NHPCO, were the reason the phase-in of the BNAF cuts went from the previous Administration’s plan of three years, to the current schedule of seven years. This gives the hospice community more time to plan for and manage the implementation of these unwarranted cuts.
Accordingly, with Capitol Hill Day 2009 just weeks away, NHPCO will be leading the hospice community in a measured, strategic, and phased fight to further soften the cuts before they go into effect in 2013. We’ve done what we needed to do for this phase of health reform. The hospice community was a resource to Congress during this trying past year. We were heard when we said $10 billion was too much to take from hospice and our policy makers heard us when we asked for increased access to hospice for pediatric patients and concurrent care. 
NHPCO will continue to ensure that hospice is "at the table" after the political dust settles and before the community and the patients we serve feel the brunt of the cuts.
You may be asking, "Why wait until Hill Day, why does it need to be phased?" To be honest, the health care decision makers on Capitol Hill are going to be burned-out and not ready to revisit the reform legislation for a while…probably not until after the November elections. But, that’s good news for us. With Hill Day, away from all the "noise" of health care reform, we will launch an education effort to reacquaint our federal elected officials with the Medicare Hospice Benefit, who we are as a community, the patients we serve and the invaluable services that are provided by hospice in every community across the nation. A focused and consistent re-education effort is critical to a successful, phased strategy to get additional relief from the cuts.
Immediate Next Steps
Obviously, the more people we can get on Capitol Hill on April 21st, the stronger the launch of our re-education effort will be. So, visit the Hill Day 2010 Information Page for more information and to register. And for those of you who cannot join us in D.C., stay tuned for exciting opportunities to participate from home!
Most importantly, as a unified community with one voice, we need to get the facts together to show Congress what the cuts will mean to the hospice programs that serve their communities and constituents. The NHPCO Regulatory Team has been hard at work on a comprehensive, easy-to use calculator for programs to use to determine the long-term impact of the combined cuts. NHPCO members should receive an email in the coming days with a link to this interactive tool. 
As always, we thank you for your Hospice Advocacy. We may not have the end-result we want yet, but your efforts have come a long way in advocating for the patients and families who depend on compassionate, high-quality end-of-life care. Please let us know if you have questions about any of this information by contacting advocacy@nhpco.org.

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