KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

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Medicare Costs Rise On Long Hospice Stays

Medicare’s hospice program was started for patients likely to die within 180 days, but thousands with dementia and other conditions have spent far more time. In related news, doctors say outpatient care is also boosting Medicare's bills and the health industry faces challenges meeting quality requirements.

The Wall Street Journal: Lengthy Hospice Care Boosts Medicare Bills
Medicare pays hospice agencies to care for patients who are close to death. For some beneficiaries of the taxpayer-funded program, hospice has become a way of life. Between 2005 and 2013, about 107,000 patients received hospice care for an average of nearly 1,000 days spread out over four or more calendar years, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Medicare billing records. Medicare’s hospice program, which has been around for 33 years, is supposed to be only for patients who doctors certify are likely to die within six months, or about 180 days. (Weaver, Wilde Mathews and McGinty, 2/18)

Modern Healthcare: The Hard Work Ahead On Adopting Uniform Quality Measures
For more than a year, top officials from Medicare, the nation's largest health plans, medical societies and major employer and consumer groups hammered away at a dreadful task: Get everyone to agree to use identical quality measures for the treatment of heart disease, cancer and other common conditions. (Evans, 2/18)

Pharmaceutical costs are also in the news —

Kaiser Health News: Urban Medicare Beneficiaries May See More Drug Savings This Year 
Medicare beneficiaries who live in urban areas may save money on their prescription drugs this year because they have better access to pharmacies in drug plan networks that charge lower copayments or coinsurance, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Such “preferred cost-sharing pharmacies” have been on the rise, adding another layer of calculation — and sometimes confusion — for Medicare beneficiaries who are trying to find the best price for their drugs. (Andrews, 2/19)

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