How to cover palliative care in health plans

The median length of time Medicare patients spent in hospice care in 2012 was only 19 days, according to a report from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Yet for patients with serious illnesses to receive extra care, they must agree to forgo receiving treatment for their disease.

However, under the experimental Medicare Care Choices Model project, those with advanced cancers, congestive heart failure or AIDS will receive hospice care in conjunction with treatment for their diseases, reports NPR. The project is set to enroll 30,000 people over the next few years.

The project aims to both improve the health of those with serious illnesses while also reducing costs. Studies show that those who receive both palliative care and disease treatment live longer than those who receive only disease treatment, notes the article.

Currently, it's difficult to access palliative care if the patient is not on hospice or in the hospital, Diane Meir, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, told Kaiser Health News.

Many insurers are looking for ways to create more person-centered programs that emphasize the patients and their families when it comes to planning for terminal conditions. Cambia Health, which owns Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield, recently created a palliative care program to focus on the value of palliative care in the treatment of its patients.

To cover palliative care in its health plan benefits, Cambia is expanding benefits to include coverage of home health aids and in-home counseling for people who are eligible for palliative care.

"We know we want to include the behavioral health piece in addition to the medical piece, because this is a very difficult time in the life of patients and their families," Torrie Fields, Cambia's program director for serious illness and palliative care told FierceHealthPayer in an exclusive interview.

For more:
- check out the report (.pdf)
- here's the NPR article
- read the KHN piece