Louisiana hospice cuts worse than previously announced
BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana’s health department is acknowledging that planned cuts in the state’s Medicaid program will eliminate hospice care for all Medicaid recipients beginning in February.
Hospice care aims to make dying people more comfortable in their final months of life. In announcing reductions to hospice care funding last week, officials with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration said hospice care at nursing homes would not be eliminated.
Kathleen Meyers, a spokeswoman for the state health agency, confirmed there will be no reimbursement for hospice services beginning Feb. 1.
Jamey Boudreaux, executive director of the Louisiana-Mississippi Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, said he learned from the health department earlier this week that the initial characterization of the cutbacks was wrong.
“Effective Feb. 1, 2013, Medicaid will no longer reimburse for hospice services,” Meyers wrote. People currently in hospice will keep those services through the rest of their lives.
Most people in hospice care are elderly and end-of-life care is covered by Medicare, Boudreaux said. More than 5,800 Medicaid patients in Louisiana received hospice benefits this year, according to state figures.
Hospice workers include not only doctors and nurses, but social workers and a chaplain, who meet to reassess the treatment plan for terminally ill patients every 15 days, he said.
While cutting hospice care is expected to trim the state portion of the Medicaid budget by $1.1 million, Boudreaux predicted it wouldn’t result in real savings because many dying people will end up at hospitals, where Medicaid will pay for at least a portion of their care.
“I predict they will spend at least four times that amount in emergency room visits and hospitalization of those type of folks,” Boudreaux said.
In an email, Meyers wrote that dying people will still be able to access pain medication through the Medicaid pharmacy program, while home health services will also be available. “Emotional support” services offered by hospice teams will be eliminated, but Meyers said the state will connect nonprofit and faith-based groups with dying Medicaid recipients.
Legislators at a hearing last week to discuss the $165.5 million in proposed state budget cutbacks were alarmed by the hospice cuts.
State officials say the cuts are needed because of revenue shortfalls. The budget must be balanced by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.