By KURT MERKELZ, MD
Our aging U.S. population will benefit from important legislation that passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives on July 23 and now heads to the U.S. Senate where it has strong bipartisan support. The Palliative Care and Hospice Training Act, or PCHETA, will improve care for patients and families facing serious illness by strengthening and expanding the end-of-life care workforce.
This is much more than an abstract policy achievement; at some point it may be personally important for you, your family, your patients and your community.
For most hospice patients, Medicare pays for their hospice care. Hospice is the original comprehensive approach to healthcare, and Medicare’s first coordinated care model. It’s a benefit that works for older Americans, and no other healthcare sector is required to address all aspects of patient’s and family’s health and well-being like hospice.
The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, one in every five U.S. residents will be retirement age. And for the first time in our history, older adults are projected to outnumber children by 2035. As America gets older, the hospice community is well-positioned to meet the growing demand for high-quality, person- and family- centered care.
Palliative care is compassionate, team-based care that helps people determine their goals of care, treatment preferences and address physical, emotional and spiritual problems that may arise with a serious illness. It only differs in that people at any stage of a serious illness can benefit from palliative care, even if they continue to pursue curative treatments. Hospice is palliative care for patients at the end of life.
In an increasingly fragmented and rapidly evolving healthcare system, hospice is one of the few sectors to demonstrate how healthcare can – and should – work at its best for its patient. PCHETA is important to all of us because it will ensure an adequate, well-trained hospice and palliative care workforce.
That makes it important for our future, but it’s important right now because hospice today is reaching more people than ever before: in rural areas that did not previously have access to hospice, and serving patients with more non-cancer terminal diagnoses like congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and dementia. Nashville-based Compassus now provides hospice, palliative and home health care services through a network of community based programs with more than 140 locations in 31 states across the U.S.
It’s hard to find much Congress agrees on today, so tremendous credit should be given to PCHETA’s 285 House sponsors, including Tennessee U.S. Representatives John Duncan, Steve Cohen, David Roe, Marsha Blackburn and David Kustoff.
The Medicare hospice benefit allows patients and their families the right to choose their care based on their personal preference, without limitations, during a vulnerable and emotional time. We urge continued support in the U.S. Senate for PCHETA because it will help address the growing demand for compassionate, person-centered, team-based care.
Kurt Merkelz, MD, is senior vice president and chief medical officer of Nashville-based Compassus, a nationwide network of community-based hospice, palliative and home health care services. For more information, go online to compassus.com.