Hospice program monitoring falls far behind

In some states, it's been a very long time since Medicare hospice programs got a checkup. An new investigation by the HHS inspector general's office (IG) has found that a substantial number of programs hadn't been reviewed by state inspectors in as long as nine years. California, Illinois and Michigan accounted for 41 percent of the past-due certifications. In all, Medicare payments to hospices which hadn't been inspected recently averaged $2.7 million each during 2004, the IG's office found. Why the backlog? These delays occur, in part, because CMS places a higher priority on hospital surveys and complaints, said Bill Bell, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health division which handles such inspections. The IG is recommending that federal laws be changed to tighten up enforcement measures for sanctioning hospices that provide inadequate care. At present, removing the hospice's CMS certification is the federal government's only option.

To learn more about hospice inspections:
- read this Associated Press piece