New hospice comparison tool uses government info, Washington Post calls for more transparency

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In the absence of a hospice consumer guide from the government, The Washington Post has created one using available Medicare data. The newspaper unveiled the quality tool Sunday, in an article criticizing a lack of transparency around hospice quality.

The Post's tool compiles data that hospices are required to report to Medicare, but which “the government has yet to publish in a form that consumers can easily use,” wrote reporters Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating. It breaks hospices down by state and county, and includes several quality measures. These include daily spending for patient care, the percent of crisis care provided and the live discharge rate.

The information is put in the context of the state — for example, one Idaho hospice spends an average of $12 a day on therapy, compared to the “typical” state amount of $10.

Users also can create comparison tables to see how selected hospices stack up against each other.

The tool was announced in the fifth installment of the Post's “Business of Dying” series, which has focused on the growth of hospice.

About half of all Medicare beneficiaries currently enter hospice, according to the newspaper. However, the government has not created a way for consumers to judge the quality of a potential hospice provider, such as a website like Nursing Home Compare. Congress has mandated that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services publish consumer information about hospices, but CMS has said this will not be available until 2017 at the earliest. The agency has cited multiple issues in gathering reliable data about hospice quality, including that many patients cannot communicate.

In the meantime, consumers are relying largely on word-of-mouth or even the “luck of the draw” in choosing a hospice, and care quality varies radically, the Post reporters asserted.

Several recent high-profile legal cases drew attention to unscrupulous hospice providers and led to calls for more stringent oversight and transparency. Late last month, Congress passed a law calling for hospice inspections once every three years. However, the government's consumer healthcare tools have been under fire of late, following a New York Times article blasting the nursing home Five Star ratings. A similar tool for dialysis providers subsequently was delayed.