Hospice care is for the terminally ill, yet the number of "hospice survivors" jumped 50% in California between 2002 and 2012. Something to celebrate? Not quite: A Washington Post investigation into the $17 billion industry now dominated by for-profits reveals hospice companies recruit patients who aren't dying because they need fewer visits, stay enrolled longer, and make them more money since Medicare pays about $150 a day per patient, whether or not they get a visit. Profits have exploded from $353 per patient in 2002 to $1,975 in 2012 in California—the data "offers a portrait of the industry," the Post notes—and despite advice from watchdogs, Medicare has kept the financial incentives in place, at a potential loss of billions of dollars a year.
"It must be strange to be told you're dying and then not die," says a lawyer who's filed several suits against hospice companies on behalf of ex-employees who claim some hospices have a "sign everybody up" policy; the companies have denied the claims. But the length of stay is important, too. On average, patients stay at nonprofit hospices for 69 days, and 102 days at for-profits, the Post notes. "If they come in very sick and die right away, it's difficult to run a business that way," says a former Delta Hospice worker. The branch she worked at had a survival rate of 63%, but hospices say that's no sign of fraud. Per a Delta rep: "To state the obvious, terminal prognostication is not an exact science." Click for the full piece. (Read more hospice stories.)