House Passes Bipartisan Hospice Bill Strengthening Physician Training, Patient Outreach

Lawmakers may not agree on much these days, but they at least appear to agree when it comes to fostering end-of-life care for terminally ill Americans.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Monday passed the Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act (PCHETA), a bipartisan piece of legislation designed to expand and strengthen end-of-life care through outreach and training programs. Spearheaded by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) and co-sponsored by 285 members of Congress in total, PCHETA was passed by a voice vote.

Voice votes are typically reserved for issues expected to pass or fail by a landslide.

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“I’ve long been a supporter of this bipartisan legislation and programs for palliative and hospice care,” Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon) said before the vote. “My own parents both received valuable care in this regard, especially hospice care, as their lives came to a close.”

PCHETA authorizes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to award grants or contracts for palliative care and hospice education centers. It also promotes career development of physicians and nurses in palliative care, while encouraging research and outreach efforts.

Multiple lawmakers expressed their support for the hospice bill prior to the vote, specifically citing hospice and palliative care’s ability to boost patients’ quality of life and decrease overall health care costs as benefits.

PCHETA, originally introduced in March of last year, received unanimous support in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the health subcommittee.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services officially recognized hospice and palliative medicine as a medical subspecialty in 2008.

“Palliative care complements efforts to treat or cure illness by focusing on patients’ quality of life,” Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas) said. “Despite the benefits of palliative care, many Americans aren’t aware of the supports available to them.”

The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization is among the bill’s supporters.

Projections anticipate that—without increased policy support—there will be only one palliative care physician for every 26,000 seriously ill patients by 2030, according to NHPCO.

A similar piece of legislation in the Senate already is supported by more than two dozen senators from both sides of the aisle.

“This predicted shortage of care providers would gravely impact access to quality hospice and palliative care and services for individuals facing serious, advanced or life-limiting illness,” NHPCO President Edo Banach said in a statement. “Passing this legislation is something Congress can do right now that will directly help their constituents in need of the patient-centered and coordinated care so many prefer.”

Palliative care consists of medical services that focus on alleviating suffering for patients and their loves ones, along with accompanying efforts to treat or cure illness.

A Congressional Budget Office cost estimate is not currently available.

Although Congress is moving to reinforce U.S. end-of-life programs, regulators are also preparing to investigate the industry for alleged fraud, waste and abuse.

Written by Robert Holly

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