Medicaid agency issues guidance on new hospice benefits for terminally ill children

The health reform law mandates that state Medicaid programs allow terminally ill children to receive curative treatment even if they elect hospice benefits, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reiterated in guidance released Thursday.

In a letter to state health officials, federal Medicaid director Cindy Mann said states will be required to submit new paperwork to indicate that "hospice is provided to children concurrently with curative treatment." The new rules apply to both state Medicaid programs and Children's Health Insurance Programs (CHIP) operating as Medicaid expansions.

States with separate CHIP programs are still free not to cover hospice services, but if they do, they must now offer curative treatment concurrently.

Prior to enactment of healthcare reform, "curative treatment of a terminal illness ceased upon election of the hospice benefit" Mann writes.

"We believe implementation of this new provision is vitally important for children and their families seeking a blended package of curative and palliative services. This provision will increase utilization of hospice services since parents and children will no longer be required to forego curative treatment."