Date: 20 Apr 2012

Differences between non-profit and for-profit hospices: patient selection and quality

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Abstract

This research compares the behavior of non-profit organizations and private for-profit firms in the hospice industry, where there are financial incentives created by the Medicare benefit. Medicare reimburses hospices on a fixed per diem basis, regardless of patient diagnosis. Because under this system patients with lower expected costs are more profitable, hospices can selectively enroll patients with longer lengths of stay. While it is illegal for hospices to reject potential patients explicitly, they can influence their patient mix through referral networks. A fixed per diem rate also creates an incentive shirk on quality and to substitute lower skilled for higher skilled labor, which has implications for quality of care. By using within-market variation in hospice characteristics, the empirical evidence suggests that for-profit hospices differentially take advantage of these incentives. The results show that for-profit hospices engage in patient selection through significantly different referral networks than non-profits. They receive more patients from long-term care facilities and fewer patients through more traditional paths, such as physician referrals. This mechanism of patient selection is supported by the result that for-profits have fewer cancer patients and more patients with longer lengths of stay. While non-profit and for-profit hospices report similar numbers of staff visits per patient, for-profit firms make significantly less use of skilled nursing providers. We also find some weak evidence of lower levels of quality in for-profit hospices.