With coronavirus infections and deaths rising anew in worrisome fashion from coast to coast, matters could not get worse with the nation’s long-term care, right? Guess again. Profit-mongering and “audacious, widespread fraud” apparently has run amok in hospice care in the Golden State.
Because California, alas, too often serves as a trend-setting locale, patients, their loved ones, clinicians, regulators, and politicians may wish to take heed of an investigation published by the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reported that too many older, sick, and injured patients have been gulled into signing up for unneeded and undelivered services meant for folks at the end of their lives:
“[M]any [hospice patients] are unwitting recruits [of] unscrupulous providers who bill Medicare for hospice services and equipment for ‘terminally ill’ patients who aren’t dying. Intense competition for new patients — who generate $154 to $1,432 a day each in Medicare payments — has spawned a cottage industry of illegal practices, including kickbacks to crooked doctors and recruiters who zero in on prospective patients at retirement homes and other venues … The exponential boom in providers has transformed end-of-life care that was once the realm of charities and religious groups into a multibillion-dollar business dominated by profit-driven operators. Nowhere has that growth been more explosive, and its harmful side effects more evident, than in Los Angeles County. The county’s hospices have multiplied sixfold in the last decade and now account for more than half of the state’s roughly 1,200 Medicare-certified providers, according to a Times analysis of federal health care data.”