Hospice - the Most Underutilized Medicare Benefit

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), there are 3,300 hospice providers in the United States. These organizations provided care to more than 950,000 terminally ill Americans in 2003. However, the NHPCO estimates that as many as two-thirds of all eligible patients do not receive the hospice benefit. And while the Medicare hospice benefit is designed to provide care for the last 180 days of life, a 2003 study by the NHPCO revealed that more than 36 percent of hospice patients were on service for less than a week. This means that even these patients who are accessing the care are still only receiving a small fraction of the benefit.

VistaCare believes the lack of awareness of hospice and other obstacles to access are preventing too many people in the United States from receiving the hospice care to which they're entitled, said Slager. "Unfortunately, many people – including patients, their friends and family, and even some healthcare professionals—aren't familiar with the services of today's hospice. Sadly, this has resulted in only a small percentage of people who are eligible for hospice care making use of its full benefits. At VistaCare, we're determined to bring the gift of hospice to as many eligible patients as possible … as early as possible."

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said: "Hospice care is an essential Medicare benefit … however, we are concerned that some individuals who may want hospice care, and could benefit from it, may not be learning about it or may be learning about it late in the course of their illness."

Hospice Saves Taxpayer Money vs. Traditional Care

Recent estimates by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have concluded that the cost of care per day for hospice patients is approximately 1/20 th the cost of care for comparable patients receiving other medical services in hospitals. CMS also has reported that for every dollar Medicare spends on hospice care, it saves $1.52 in other medical expenses. This translates directly to taxpayer savings and helps to contain rising insurance premium expenses.

As Americans Age, the Need for Hospice Care Will Increase

Eighty percent of the people who use hospice care are over the age of 65. Recent census reports show that there are more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65 and that this number is expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomers age. Additionally, the 65 and over age group is growing three times faster than the general population.