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Letter to the Editor - July 7, 2009

Hospice care too valuable to lose

To the editor:

Our country is on the verge of implementing a new approach to health care that will reach "the least of these" in our nation, including children, the elderly, and impoverished Americans.

Unfortunately, part of the health-care plan is potentially detrimental to some of the most vulnerable and underserved -- the terminally ill.

Last year, despite bipartisan opposition and a lawsuit by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, President Bush implemented Medicare cuts which decrease hospice funding over the next four years, decimating hospice programs across the nation. In fact, some rural hospices -- often the only hospice provider in a large territory -- will be forced to close their doors. The cuts will compromise, even cruelly eliminate, hospice presence at the bedsides of dying Americans.

President Obama quickly approved a one-year moratorium on the Hospice Medicare cuts. However, without intervention, the cuts will be reinstated on Oct. 1, 2009. A Duke University study found that hospice use reduces Medicare costs by an average of $2,300 per patient, a savings of more than $2 billion per year.

The Medicare savings with the cuts total $2.2 billion over the next 5 years. In other words, hospice care saves taxpayers $10 billion in 5 years; whereas, the cuts save only $2.2 billion in 5 years. The Medicare savings of increased hospice use will far surpass that of any proposed decrease in reimbursement.

In 2008, 1.4 million Americans benefited from hospice care. In order to preserve the ministry that hospice provides, U.S. Senators Chambliss and Isakson, the medical community, and hospice advocates must support the only option which is morally sound and fiscally sensible.

Cuts to hospice reimbursements must be rescinded. A spiritual leader once said, "Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members -- the last, the least, the littlest."

Please speak for those who can't, by writing your representatives, or calling the White House Comment Line at (202) 456-1111.

MEREDITH L. SWINFORD, LMSW

Hospice Social Worker