As a hospice COO and longtime Idaho resident, I know first-hand the difficulties that some of our neighbors face as they negotiate our complex health care system. Unfortunately, for some rural patients, their ability to access hospice can be downright impossible. This is because the Medicare Hospice Benefit is not readily available to those who utilize rural health clinics.
Current federal laws state that physicians employed by rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers cannot receive reimbursement for serving as an attending physician for their patients enrolled in hospice care. In the Gem State, we have well over 40 rural health clinics that, under current law, are excluded from providing hospice care. In practice this means that as a patient who is reaching a very difficult time, they must leave their trusted provider to find a new doctor who can serve as their hospice attending physician. For many this means traveling hours for a new doctor. This is a dreadful burden to place on rural patients facing end-of-life challenges.
In most cases the Medicare Hospice Benefit guarantees that patients have the right to select the physician of their choice. It is unreasonable that patients served by rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers are denied this right. Rural populations, over half a million people in Idaho, should not have to deal with outsized obstacles to access care.
Fortunately, this issue has garnered the attention of leaders in Congress, and bipartisan legislation has been introduced to correct this statutory shortcoming. The Rural Access to Hospice Act (H.R. 2594/S. 1190), sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Representatives Ron Kind (D-WI) and Jackie Walorski (R-IN), would allow RHCs and FQHCs to receive payment for acting as a hospice attending physician. This would allow rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers to bill and be paid for hospice attending physician services the same way they are currently paid for other services they provide. If enacted this change in the law would make hospice more accessible to more patients and families.
As our population ages and the need for quality end-of-life care increases, we must ensure that access to hospice is readily available to patients and caregivers. I recently met with staff members from the Idaho congressional delegation in Boise to discuss this and other important legislation. I thank them for their time. It is essential that the members of the Idaho congressional delegation, Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch along with Reps. Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson, support this legislation. As an Idahoan providing care to my community, I would hope that every person across our state, no matter their zip code, is able to access quality, affordable hospice care.