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Hospice reform crafted by Reed passes House

Congressman Tom Reed speaks on the House floor Tuesday about the hospice reform in the BENES Act.

Hospice facilities are less regulated than nursing homes and hospitals, and government investigations have shown many are mistreating the terminally ill patients they’re tasked with comforting. A new bill passed by the House of Representatives could help change that.

On Tuesday the House approved the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification (BENES) Act. It mostly deals with Medicare eligibility, but also includes language from a previous piece of legislation, the Helping Our Senior Population in Comfort Environments (HOSPICE) Act, which lawmakers say would increase the accountability and transparency of hospice providers.

Currently, hospices are only inspected once every three years and are not subject to fines. They can be cut off from Medicare funding, but the penalty is rarely used. It happened to less than 1% of the nation’s over 4,000 hospices from 2014 to 2017.

Language from the HOSPICE ACT would allow the Department of Health and Human Services level monetary fines on hospices for poor care, publicize their inspection results online, and create a toll-free hotline for patients and families to report abuse.

Southern Tier Congressman Tom Reed (NY-23) co-authored the HOSPICE Act, which was first introduced in February.

“The HOSPICE Act is all about making sure that hospice caregivers are in a position to deliver care to hospice patients in the best quality that they can,” Reed said during a media call Wednesday, “and that if there is a bad actor, that there is someone who potentially should not be providing that hospice care because of quality issues of care that they deliver, that we hold them accountable.”

The legislation comes in the wake of reports by HHS’ Office of Inspector General last year that found some hospices failed to properly train staff and provide needed services, putting patients at risk of suffering unnecessary pain and discomfort.

They also found over 80% of hospices nationwide had at least one deficiency from 2012 to 2016. In New York state, 93% had at least one deficiency.

Reed, who co-authored the bi-partisan HOSPICE Act with California Democrat Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), said he was also inspired by his own experiences with hospice. He said his late mother received hospice care before dying of lymphoma and that he is now a hospice volunteer in Washington, D.C.

“We do want to make sure that hospice quality of care is always maintained at the level that I, as a volunteer myself, personally adhere to, but also that my family received,” he said.

Reed said he was glad that reforms in the HOSPICE Act made it into the BENES Act, which he believes has a good chance to pass the Senate by the end of the year and land on President Trump’s desk.

“It doesn't matter to me if these bills like the HOSPICE Act go through the system one by one … or if they hitch a ride on other vehicles,” he said. “Getting this legislation into this larger bill gives us the best chance to get through the system and get the HOSPICE Act signed into law.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.