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Specter, Harkin, Wyden, Roberts, Rockefeller, Smith Introduce Hospice Protection Act

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Bill Will Place One Year Moratorium on Reducing Payments to Hospice Providers

Leading health care advocates in the Senate introduced legislation to protect Medicare beneficiaries' access to hospice care.

The Hospice Protection Act of 2008 (S. 3484) was introduced Friday in the Senate by Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and Gordon Smith (R- Ore.) are original cosponsors.

The bill will place a one year moratorium on a final rule issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to reduce hospice reimbursement rates to hospice providers. If implemented as scheduled on October 1, 2008, it will result in a $2.3 billion decrease in hospice payments over the next five years.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is currently examining the payment system for hospice care and is expected to release their results in 2009. This bill would delay the phase out of the hospice budget neutrality adjustment factor until MedPAC is able to present their findings.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

"This legislation is important for the 1.3 million Americans who depend on hospice for high quality and compassionate end-of-life care each year," Senator Specter said. "The Medicare cuts are short-sighted and place a heavy burden on the hospice community."

"The proposed cuts in Medicare payments would devastate hospices throughout the country that provide the highest level of care to patients and their families," Senator Harkin said. "The cuts would especially hurt hospices in rural areas that serve our most vulnerable populations. This is simply unacceptable. Our bill will prevent these cuts and ensure hospice care is accessible to all."

"The Administration's rule is reckless at best," said Senator Wyden. "The Hospice Protection Act defends Americans' right to choose hospice services for themselves and their loved ones at some of the most difficult moments in their lives."

"It is impossible to describe the value of hospice services to the patients and families for which they provide selfless and compassionate care," Senator Roberts said. "This bill will give CMS and MedPAC time to reconsider hasty decisions to cut reimbursements to hospice programs."

"The Administration's proposal demonstrates the worst kind of ambivalence toward grieving families," Senator Rockefeller said. "Care at the end-of-life is not about meeting an arbitrary budget target. It is about respecting people's wishes, allowing them to transition with grace and dignity. Once again, this Administration leaves us all guessing about the true meaning of compassionate conservatism."

"I have witnessed firsthand the benefits of hospice care to ailing patients and their families and we must ensure that their healthcare is not compromised," said Senator Smith. "Oregon is at risk of losing millions to hospice care, and we must do a better job protecting these vital services for our loved ones."

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