No one knows how big the problem of hospice fraud is — all types of improper Medicare payments are estimated at $65 billion for 2010 — but federal investigators prosecuted more than 60 cases in the last year alone, involving hundred of millions of dollars nationwide. The system that was built to help dying patients live out their remaining days with dignity and comfort has few quality metrics to meet, no minimum requirements for how often care is provided, and low barriers to getting into the business. Critics say that can make end-of-life care seem ripe for abuse. “There’s a built-in incentive to get patients in the door,” said Claire Sylvia, a lawyer representing whistleblowers in health care fraud cases at the San Francisco offices of Phillips & Cohen LLP. For example, former Horizons Hospice chief operating officer Mary Ann Stewart, is under indictment in federal court in Pittsburgh on charges of inflating enrollment at her company’s Monroeville facility by recruiting patients who often weren’t really dying. A long-awaited reform in how Medicare pays hospice providers that went into effect in January will do little to curb such abuse, experts say. Medicare began staggering payments to better reflect the cost of care — the first reimbursement change since the benefit began in 1983.
For the article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, click here.