Letter: Action needed to improve rural access to hospice care
April 23, 2018
Action needed to improve rural access to hospice care
My name is Heather Marshall and I wish to express my sincere concern over the continuing refusal of the federal government to fix a quirk in current law that could prevent over 27 million Americans from accessing the hospice physician of their choice.
Currently, patients of Federally Qualified Health Centers and Rural Health Clinics, who combined serve over 27 million Americans, are unable to keep their physician when they elect to begin hospice services. This law prohibits physicians at these clinics from serving as the hospice attending physician, a restriction that does not exist for any other healthcare providers. All other hospice patients are entitled to the attending physician of their choice, as the system recognizes the unique needs of those facing serious illness and the end of life. But currently patients of FQHCs and RHCs are excluded. Therefore, at their most vulnerable time, these patients are cut loose from their trusted physician and must find a new practitioner to serve them as they enter hospice. This is an unreasonable burden to place upon a fragile patient and their family, and damages the important patient-physician relationship at a critical time.
Additionally, Federally Qualified Health Centers are generally considered "safety net" providers who provide healthcare access to traditionally underserved communities. Rural Health Clinics similarly provide care in rural and frontier areas, where they are frequently the only provider for miles. Both FQHCs and RHCs play critical roles in ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans, regardless of their demographics or geography. Therefore, it is imperative that these clinics, who reach some of our most vulnerable neighbors, be able to continue serving their patients when they elect hospice.
I hope our community, and our Members of Congress, will recognize the burden this problem causes to vulnerable patients and families, and act quickly to enact the Rural Access to Hospice Act. No American should be prevented from accessing quality end-of-life care due to their demographics or zip code!
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