WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) today introduced bipartisan legislation to improve seniors’ access to hospice care in rural America. Currently, a statutory barrier inhibits seniors’ access to hospice in rural communities across the country. When patients enroll in hospice, they select a physician or nurse practitioner to serve as their provider. Unlike other services, rural health clinics (RHCs) and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) cannot bill Medicare under Part B for hospice services, which prevents some patients from receiving care from their trusted primary care practitioner. The Rural Access to Hospice Act of 2017 aims to level the playing field by allowing RHCs and FQHCs to receive payment for practitioner’s services while caring for their patients in hospice care.
“People in the final stages of life should have access to hospice care regardless of where they live,” Senator Capito said. “The Rural Access to Hospice Act will make that possible by ensuring this critical service is available to those in our rural communities, including many in West Virginia, where hospice care is underutilized. As someone who knows what it is like to have a family member receive hospice care, I understand the comfort and compassionate care hospice provides, and I am committed to making sure this service is available to everyone.”
“This bipartisan bill improves access to hospice care for seniors in rural areas of the country, including New Hampshire,” said Senator Shaheen. “Granite Staters shouldn’t have to choose between giving up their primary care providers and receiving hospice care. This proposal will help patients and their families receive hospice care and the peace of mind that comes with continuing to see their trusted provider towards the end of life.”
In rural communities like those in New Hampshire and West Virginia, hospice care is underutilized - only 32 percent of those eligible in rural areas utilized hospice compared to 48 percent in urban areas according to a report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC). For some patients, RHCs and FQHCs are their only source for primary care. The Rural Access to Hospice Act of 2017 will enable patients to receive primary care from providers they know and trust and will promote the use of hospice care among rural beneficiaries.
The legislation has been endorsed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the National Association of Community Health Centers, Inc.