Bamboozled February 16, 2017: Threat of hospice bill leads to new refund policy for seniors

 

With a little encouragement from state legislators — and from Bamboozled — families who need to put loved ones in hospice care can rest a little easier.

Last year, we brought you the story of Margaret Shaw, a woman whose 96-year-old mother, Ida Shaw, needed hospice care.

Choosing a facility was a rush because her mom needed immediate care. The family selected Center for Hope in Scotch Plains.

There was a contract provision Margaret Shaw didn’t like, but felt she had no choice.

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Ida Shaw, 95, died while she was in a hospice facility. The facility required she pay a nonrefundable seven days of care upfront, but she died after two-and-a half days. 

It said the family would have to pay upfront for seven days of care, and there would be no refund under any circumstance, even if the patient didn’t need care for all seven days.

So upfront, Shaw paid $2,730, or $390 a day, to get her mom into the facility.

Two-and-a-half days after she checked in, Ida Shaw died.

Margaret Shaw was happy with the care her mother received, but she remained troubled about the fee for the days that her mother didn’t need care. She asked for help from legislators.

No one responded to her inquiries, so Bamboozled gave a nudge.

And in September, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Senator Tom Kean introduced legislation to ban the practice.

Munoz and Kean said they wanted to make sure consumers were protected.

“This would prevent a hospice from charging a patient or family member for time periods in which the hospice is not providing services and the hospice is free to place another patient in the bed,” the Assembly version of the bill said.

Soon after, a hospice industry group reached out to the legislators. They wanted to talk.

To avoid the legislation, the facilities, speaking through the Home Care & Hospice Association of New Jersey, made a promise to change their billing practices.

“To better assist families during stressful times, all these licensed hospices that own residences have adopted policies that provide for a refund of facility deposits for any day in which a patient is not a resident in the facility,” said the letter, which was signed by Chrissy Buteas, the group’s president and CEO.

The only time a hospice could hang on to a deposit or charge patients for unused days would be if there were “absent days spent in a therapeutic facility or on a leave requested by the patient.”

That sounds very, very fair.

Further, the group pledged to communicate this practice to any new hospice houses that come about to make sure “this policy is consistently applied statewide.”

That creates the same consumer-friendly practice that would have been required from the legislation.

‘We are very grateful that we were able to reach a resolution with the hospice community,” Munoz said. “Margaret Shaw, who shared her story with me, should be very proud that her determination to help others contributed to this issue being resolved.”

Kean, too, was happy with the industry promise.

“We are pleased that all parties were able to find a way to address the issue in a way that will protect the consumer and restore confidence in the hospice community, which is such a critical part of New Jersey’s healthcare landscape, ” Kean said.

And talk about timing.

“According to the Jewish calendar, today is the day my mom died,” Margaret Shaw said on the day the news came.

The Shaw family will light a memorial candle at sunset the night before the day of the anniversary of Ida Shaw’s passing and say a prayer called Yiskor “in honor of our beloved parent,” she said.

The candle stays lit until sundown the following day, Shaw said. On the next Sabbath evening, which will be tomorrow (Friday), they will say Yiskor again in temple.

Shaw said she is “elated that hospice centers in New Jersey will be changing their refund policies.”

“The Center for Hope will be abiding by the guidelines Father Hudson had originally set up when he dreamed of creating this type of facility,” Shaw said. “Since legislation will not be passed at this time, I hope in the future, all hospice centers keep their word and never change their policies back.”

“We, as the public, must be vigilant in making sure this never happens again,” Shaw said.

Bamboozled will be watching, too.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.