What is the Hospice Special Focus Program?

What is the Hospice Special Focus Program?

The hospice Special Focus Program (SFP) is conducted by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). The objective of this program is to identify poor performing hospice agencies, based upon quality indicators, that place hospice beneficiaries at risk. These hospice agencies will then be subject to additional scrutiny and oversight to ensure that they meet Medicare requirements. The SFP is designed to either bring these programs into compliance or force them out of the Medicare program by terminating their Medicare status.

What is the origin of the Special Focus Program?

The hospice Special Focus Program was mandated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. That is also when it was clarified that hospices would be surveyed every three years. All hospices now have had a survey since 2021. Some of that data is being used for the hospice Special Focus Program, which is designed to identify the worst performing hospices and either bring them into compliance or force them out of the program by terminating their Medicare status.

How is a hospice agency selected for inclusion in the Special Focus Program?

CMS uses an algorithm to identify the poor performing hospice agencies to include in the SFP. The algorithm combines data from a few data sources to score each of the hospice agencies. The score is based on data from: condition-level deficiencies in standard surveys, substantiated complaints, Hospice Care Index (HCI), and the CAHPS survey.  The algorithm does not stratify hospice agency based upon size or location; all hospice agencies are held to the same standard regardless of their size or location. The bottom 10% ranked hospice agencies (which are the hospice agencies with the highest algorithm score) are selected to be included in to the SFP. 

What is the impact of a hospice agency being included in the SFP?

Hospice agencies that are included in the SFP will be publicly reported on the SFP website.  SFP is a framework for increased oversight. The hospice agencies that are included in the SFP program will be surveyed more frequently — at least every six months.  CMS will determine what actions must be taken based upon the survey results.

How will a hospice agency exit the SFP?

A hospice will complete the SFP if in an 18-month time frame the hospice agency has no Quality of Care condition level deficiencies or immediate jeopardies for any two six month SFP surveys and has no pending complaints or have returned to substantial compliance with all requirements. The hospice will receive a letter from CMS that will indicate official completion of the program. If a hospice is unable to meet the completion criteria – due to inability to successfully pass surveys or continued complaints while on the SFP – it will be placed on the Medicare termination track.

Even as hospices work to improve their levels of quality and compliance, there will always be hospice agencies that fall in the lowest 10% of performance relative to their peers. Only by continually monitoring their quality performance and comparing these quality scores to peer performance can a hospice agency stay out of the lower 10% and off of the SFP list.

Where can you find out more?

Hospice Special Focus Program – CMS