Hospice Updates

I had the privilege of attending an educational session with Jamie Boudreaux with the Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization this week.  I highly recommend taking advantage of any opportunity that comes your way to attend any LMHPCO events.

During Jamie’s talk, he referenced numerous changes that were proposed for 2016 in Hospice.  After hearing so much about this exciting document, I couldn’t wait to read it.  You should read it, too and send your comments should you have any.

The highlights – or at least those points that we find interesting as coders and clinicians, are found below.  This is not an all inclusive account of the regulations and I strongly encourage you to read them for yourself.

Good News First

You are getting a raise.  It is projected that hospice payments will rise almost 2 percent.  But that’s not all.  Remember that talk about a U Shaped curve?  It isn’t exactly a ‘U’ but you now have a change in how you will be paid.

There are two factors that will increase your payment.  In the current system, due to the increased expenses in admitting a patient and establishing a care plan, a patient will be on service for approximately 21 days until the hospice breaks even.  As time goes by, the payment stays the same and hospice providers are collecting the same payment for long stretches of time when the patient has minimal needs.  This is traditionally when the hospice made money.  As death approaches, the costs usually increase again.

As such, two new provisions have been added.

During the first 60 days of hospice, payment will be at a rate (adjusted for your area) of $187.63

After day 60, per diem payment will fall to $145.21

Important:  An episode of hospice care is considered to be all episodes that are separated by no more than 60 days.  You cannot discharge and readmit a patient prior to 60 days and expect the higher rate.  Hospice providers who pick up patients from other hospices as in a transfer will be similarly unable to claim the higher rate.

But there’s more!

During the last seven days of care, hospices will be able to bill a Severity Intensity Add-on or SIA.  In addition to the hospice per diem rate, for Registered Nurse and Social Work visits during those last 7 days, an additional rate equivalent to the continuous care rate may be billed up to 4 hours.  That means that in addition to the daily rate, a hospice can receive almost $160.00 more.

There are conditions:

  • The additional rate is only available for Registered Nurse and Social Work visits.
  • The SIO is not available for patients in nursing homes.
  • The beneficiary is discharged due to death
  • The care occurs in the last seven days of life.

The reported reason for this change is to encourage providers to provide additional care when it is needed the most.  A full 20 percent of patients did not receive a visit on the day of death.

So that’s the good news.  Hospice providers will be receiving additional cash when expenses are the highest. Back to the beginning of the document where the news isn’t quite so exciting.

Background

Normally, we would not bore you with the background of any proposed regulations but in this case, the continual references to the 1983 hospice benefit rules probably indicate that some of the recent changes and proposed changes are an indication that hospices haven’t gotten it right, yet.

The tone of this document is well worth your time to read so you can heed the inherent warnings.

Attending Physician

The rule is one per patient.  The fact that over one third of patients have multiple physicians submitting claims indicating they are the attending physician results in Medicare paying the physicians when in fact, the hospice is the correct payor source.  Don’t get caught doing this.

A signed document is required when a patient chooses to change physicians.

The Joy of Scrutiny

Medicare is not mandating surveys to be conducted at least every three years as opposed to the every 6 year rule now.  Select hospices who have long lengths of stay can expect to find themselves on a private list where all claims for services past 180 days of admission are routinely reviewed.  Do not get on this naughty list.

Remember, the data exists for Medicare to look at the average length of stay in addition to the percentage of patients on service greater than 180 days.  That’s a really good number to keep handy, by the way.  You can have a lot of patients on service for a year or more offset by some short lived admissions so your average length of stay may be okay but you might still have far too many patients on service longer than would be considered reasonable and necessary.

Utilization

Obviously this is not a regulation but it is an indication of the overall ‘tone’ being set by document.

The number of Medicare beneficiaries receiving hospice services has grown from 513,000 in FY 2000 to over 1.3 million in FY 2013. Similarly, Medicare hospice expenditures have risen from $2.8 billion in FY 2000 to an estimated $15.3 billion in FY 2013

…..this increased spending is partly due to an increased average lifetime length of stay for beneficiaries, from 54 days in 2000 to 98.5 days in FY 2013, an increase of 82 percent.

Cost Savings?

image

This chart shows how many dollars per day were spent on patients in the 180 days prior to hospice admission and how many days spent in the care of a hospice.  As it turns out, both of these numbers are critical for determining potential savings to the Medicare trusts.

On the vertical column, you can see the grand total of days a patient spent in hospice.  The horizontal line shows what the average daily cost of the patient was prior to admission.

This is Medicare’s work.  We do not agree with this method of cost analysis.  However, any differences of opinions regarding the formulas used do not account for $158,000 per patient with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Dementia which is about what it works out to be over 120 days.

The Medicare Hospice Benefit is not reducing healthcare costs in terminally ill patients. This is a problem folks.

Live Discharges

The proposed regulations are very clear that nobody expects the live discharge rate to be zero.  Patients have the right at any time to revoke their election at any time.  Some patients start to get better especially after they have been taken off 25 medications designed to prolong their life.  They move and sometimes they just hate your hospice and revoke.

Based on the data within the proposed regulations, there can be no doubt that an above average live discharge rate strongly correlates with other undesirable characteristics of hospice provider.  The patients discharged alive are from providers that also have more long term, low maintenance patients.  Additionally, patients in these hospices cost Medicare more in terms of money spent for nonhospice care.

The proposed regulations reiterated the limited number of reasons that a provider can discharge a patient.  They are as follows:

    • death
    • revocation
    • transfer to another hospice
    • moving out of the hospice’s service area
    • discharge for cause,
    • patient no longer being considered terminally ill (that is, no longer qualifying for hospice services

When discharging for cause, ensure that all reasons are documented especially if a patient has been on service for a while.  When more than one neighborhood becomes unsafe on day 181 of a hospice episode of care, it makes for a pattern.

There are very few legitimate causes for discharge in hospice. and the regulations are clear that discharging patients due to cost is not approved by Medicare.

Comments from Providers

The data in the proposed regulations is stunning but the real damage comes from various and sundry anecdotes.  It is important for providers to understand what those who right the rules are thinking and how they are thinking.   Copied directly from the regs:

We have received anecdotal reports from non-hospice providers who have rendered care and services to hospice beneficiaries in which the non-hospice provider states that the care given was related to the terminal prognosis of the individual. These reports go on to say that they have contacted hospices to coordinate the care of the hospice beneficiary only to be told by those hospices that they disagreed with the non-hospice providers’ clinical judgment that the care was related to the terminal prognosis.

We have been told that hospices are refusing to reimburse the non-hospice provider for care related to the terminal prognosis.

non-hospice providers also informed us that the hospices told them to code the claim with a different diagnosis or to code condition code 07 (treatment of Non-terminal Condition for Hospice) or the modifier “GW” (service not related to the hospice patient’s terminal condition) on their claims to ensure that the non-hospice provider would consequently get paid through Medicare.

We have also received anecdotal reports from hospice beneficiaries and their families that they have been told by the hospice to revoke their hospice election to receive high-cost services that should be covered by the hospice, such as palliative chemotherapy and radiation.

In addition to publishing these comments, staff memos to employees of specific large hospices were included stating that their providers should go after the long term patients.

Terminal Prognosis

This is the last time that you should ever consider the words ‘terminal’ and ‘diagnosis’ together.  People do not have terminal conditions in isolation.  They have terminal prognoses.

All of the research and numbers that Medicare has presented all go to support their belief that hospices are not living up to their provider agreement which includes care for the diagnoses that is most likely to cause death and any and all other diagnoses that affect the patient’s comfort, are a result of the terminal prognosis or contribute to the severity of the prognosis.

Consider a patient who needs bypass surgery but because of diabetes, long term use of steroids for arthritis and a longstanding history of noncompliance due to a psychiatric illness, she is not a surgical candidate.  There is no one diagnosis that is terminal.  All of them play a role in his terminal prognosis and all must be addressed by the hospice.

Coding

You are making progress!  In the 2015 regulations it was noted that 72 percent of hospice claims had only a single diagnosis.  This year, for the 2016 update, the percentage of claims with only diagnosis is down to 49 percent.

In addition, because there has been confusion and discussion about the nature of the ‘terminal prognosis’, providers have been omitting diagnoses that are significant to the patient’s overall condition.

Since the inception of hospice, adherence to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) has been mandated.  This means that the primary diagnosis and all diagnoses that affect the patient’s ability to respond to or participate in the plan of care are to be included.

Therefore, we are clarifying that hospices will report all diagnoses identified in the initial and comprehensive assessments on hospice claims, whether related or unrelated to the terminal prognosis of the individual. This is in keeping with the requirements of determining whether an individual is terminally ill. This would also include the reporting of any mental health disorders and conditions that would affect the plan of care as hospices are to assess and provide care for identified psychosocial and emotional needs, as well as, for the physical and spiritual needs.

I have heard of denials because patients were admitted to psychiatric facilities that billed Medicare because the patient’s ‘terminal diagnosis’ was not psychiatric in nature.  I suspect this has happened numerous times because psychiatric conditions are mentioned more than once in this document.

We will monitor compliance with required coding practices and collaborate with all relevant CMS components to determine whether further policy changes are needed or if additional program integrity oversight actions need to be implemented.

Let the last sentence of the section on coding resonate loudly on your priority list.  We can and will code for you.  You can learn ICD-10 coding or you can outsource to another company.  Alternatively, we can help with appeals, Focused Medical Review, or ZPIC audits.  The choice is yours but if you’ve ever been through that kind of regulatory scrutiny before, you would not choose non-compliance.

There is more – so much more but try digesting this first and we’ll keep an eye on the final release and do our best to summarize it for you.

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