Decision delayed for continued hospice funding

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Dec. 1 &045; that’s the latest date set by state Medicaid officials to announce a decision as to whether Alabama Medicaid will cease payouts for hospice patients.

Hospice is a program designed to ease the passage to death for patients who have been diagnosed as terminally ill.

Its purpose is to provide as high a quality of life as possible in a patient’s final days, most frequently in the patient’s own home, without further interventions or treatments except to ease pain and ensure comfort.

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According to Robin Register, patient account ccordinator for Wiregrass Hospice, a 15-agency chain based in Dothan, this is the third time the deadline has been extended. First it was Oct. 1, then Nov. 1, now Dec. 1 &045; ironically, one day after the end of National Hospice Month.

The cuts are being proposed as a result of the failure of Gov. Bob Riley’s tax package, requiring many cuts in state-funded services and benefits.

The Medicaid hospice benefit, which pays for hospice services to patients who qualify, is not a required benefit under federal law – unlike some other provisions of Medicaid.

Register said that Alabama Medicaid had informed her the final decision on hospice cuts had been tabled for this month, but that there could be no guarantee that reimbursements would continue after Dec. 1.

She was told to call the state agency back on Dec. 1.

No one will be cut off, she said, but additional fund raising will be required, which is easier for non-profit agencies such as Wiregrass than for for-profit agencies.

In the 15 hospice programs owned and operated by Wiregrass, Register estimated that there are currently about 50 Medicaid patients, whose support requires $150,000 per month.

In a year’s time the reimbursements for that number of patients would total

$1.8 million.

Additional fund raising will be definitely required in that eventuality, she said.

The state will end up paying more for hospitalizations of non-hospice terminal patients than would be the case if these patients were in hospice programs, she said.

There are two Selma-based hospice providers &045; Cahaba Hospice Inc., located at 410 Church St. (334-418-0566) and Wiregrass Hospice, 200 Central Park Place (334-875-2120).