BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — End-of-life hospice care is usually the last medical benefit anyone receives, but one Long Island woman was shocked to find out she was losing it.
As CBS2’s Lou Young reported, Irene Olsen was supposed to have been dead by now. She was given less than six months to live two years ago, but stage 4 lung cancer and debilitating COPD have not bested her yet.
“I’m not going to die – I’m assuming I’m not going to die,” Olsen said.
On one level, that is a problem.
“Bottom line — she’s not dying fast enough. That’s the bottom line,” said Irene Olsen’s daughter, Dana Olsen.
Irene Olsen rarely leaves the couch in her daughter’s Bethpage living room. The drugs, oxygen equipment, and once-a-week nurse’s visit re all meant to ease her passing and are paid for by Medicare.
“I received a phone call last week: ‘We had a meeting. We decided she’s stable, and we’re pulling hospice,’” Dana Olsen said. “They didn’t offer an alternative.”
It certainly is not common to remove a patient from hospice, but it is not unheard of. In fact, the industry has a name for it — “graduating from hospice care.”
But it caught Irene Olsen and her daughter quite by surprise.
“It’s very hard on me, because the anxiety, you can’t breathe. You can’t breathe when you have these anxiety attacks, so it’s very scary,” she said.
Medicare rules say hospice is for the actively dying only, and “terminal” means less than six months to live. According to her hospice provider, Irene Olsen’s refusal to keep the schedule means she goes back to her private doctor and supplemental insurance.
“People should be aware that this can happen to them,” said Dana Olsen.
But experts told CBS2 it is not a hard and fast rule.
“If the patient is in a gray zone where they’re not necessarily declining but they don’t look good, in my opinion, that patient’s a hospice patient,” said Dr. Mark Fialk of Hospice of Westchester, who added that it is “very much” a judgment call.
Patients who find themselves being decertified for end-of-life hospice care have the right to appeal directly to Medicare.
Hospice providers say being taken off the program is not necessarily permanent, but it can be an inconvenience to sick people who have to change doctors until they get close enough of death to requalify.