Medical Coding: Hospice Care vs. Palliative Care

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: A patient initiated hospice during his hospitalization. The hospitalist remained on the case to take care of medical issues unrelated to the terminal diagnosis. Can the hospitalist report his services even though he is not the hospice attending of record?

Answer: Yes. The hospitalist can report his medically necessary, non-overlapping services for this patient. Because the hospitalist provided ongoing care from inpatient status to hospice status, they continue to report subsequent hospital care codes (99231-9923) for each day he encounters the patient.2 The claims must include the GW modifier (service not related to the hospice patient’s terminal condition) with the E/M code. This will distinguish the hospitalist services from the hospice attending services. The primary diagnosis code should reflect the patient’s “unrelated” condition.

Hospice care” and “palliative care” are not synonymous terms. Hospice care is defined as a comprehensive set of services (see “Hospice Coverage,” below) identified and coordinated by an interdisciplinary group to provide for the physical, psychosocial, spiritual, and emotional needs of a terminally ill patient and/or family members, as delineated in a specific patient plan of care.1 Palliative care is defined as patient- and family-centered care that optimizes quality of life by anticipating, preventing, and treating suffering. Palliative care throughout the continuum of illness involves addressing physical, intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual needs, and facilitates patient autonomy, access to information, and choice.1

As an approach, hospice care of terminally ill individuals involves palliative care (relief of pain and uncomfortable symptoms), and emphasizes maintaining the patient at home with family and friends as long as possible. Hospice services can be provided in a home, center, skilled-nursing facility, or hospital setting. In contrast, palliative-care services can be provided during hospice care, or coincide with care that is focused on a cure.

Many hospitalists provide both hospice care and palliative-care services to their patients. Different factors affect how to report these services. These programs can be quite costly, as they involve several team members and a substantial amount of time delivering these services. Capturing services appropriately and obtaining reimbursement to help continue program initiatives are significant issues.

Hospice Care

When a patient enrolls in hospice, all rights to Medicare Part B payments are waived during the benefit period involving professional services related to the treatment and management of the terminal illness. Payment is made through the Part A benefit for the associated costs of daily care and the services provided by the hospice-employed physician. An exception occurs for professional services of an independent attending physician who is not an employee of the designated hospice and does not receive compensation from the hospice for those services. The “attending physician” for hospice services must be an individual who is a doctor of medicine or osteopathy, or a nurse practitioner identified by the individual, at the time they elect hospice coverage, as having the most significant role in the determination and delivery of their medical care.2

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