To the Editor:
Twenty-seven million Americans may be unable to access hospice in rural and underserved communities thanks to a quirk in current law. Specifically, patients of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) and Rural Health Clinics (RHC) are unable to keep their physician when they elect to begin hospice services. As a social worker, I think this is unfair.
All other hospice patients are entitled to the attending physician of their choice, as the system recognizes these unique needs. It’s not right that patients of FQHCs and RHCs are excluded and cut loose from their trusted physician. FQHCs are generally considered “safety net” providers who provide healthcare access to underserved communities. RHCs provide care in rural areas and are frequently the only provider for miles. Both of these providers play critical roles in ensuring access to healthcare for all Americans. 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.
Thankfully, Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Capito (R-WV) and Congressman Ron Kind (D-WI) and Congresswoman Jackie Walorski (R-IN) have worked together to introduce the Rural Access to Hospice Act, which would fix this oversight. This non-controversial, bi-partisan legislation will help ensure that terminally ill beneficiaries in rural communities can access the hospice benefit and the physician of their choice. I hope 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!