Congress: Support access to palliative care for aging Americans
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The 21st century has brought remarkable advances in health care services, research and biopharmaceutical innovation. This has resulted in many Americans living longer with, and sometimes beating, serious illness. 

However, as illness becomes more serious, humane treatment should include non-medical supports to ease symptoms and optimize quality of life. Unfortunately, this is an area where our health care system – despite all its advances – falls regrettably short.

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Palliative care – a multidisciplinary specialty that focuses on providing relief from the symptoms, pain, physical and mental stress of a terminal diagnosis – is growing in demand in the United States. Like trusted hospice care, quality palliative care is patient-centered and addresses patients’ physical, emotional, psychosocial, spiritual and familial needs. It’s been shown to improve quality of life, reduce depression, and has been linked to greater survival time.

But without proper investment from Congress, it’s a specialty that is destined to remain out-of-reach for many Americans.

Research from the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) indicates that a growing shortage of adequately trained hospice and palliative care providers will mean insufficient numbers of professionals to ensure aging Americans have access to quality palliative care. Other data from George Washington University Healthcare Institute estimates there will be no more than 1 percent growth in the palliative care and hospice physician workforce in the next 20 years, while the number of people eligible to benefit from palliative care will increase by more than 20 percent. Without new investments in palliative care education and training, there will be only one palliative physician for every 26,000 seriously ill patients by 2030.

Fortunately, Congress has recognized the need to enhance the outlook for palliative care services and acted to address this growing void in our health care system.

The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (or PCHETA, S. 693 and H.R. 1676) – which has the support of over 300 members of Congress from both parties and chambers – addresses this national workforce shortage by encouraging palliative medicine training in a variety of settings, not just hospice. The legislation would also establish a program to enable hospice and palliative physicians to train teams of interdisciplinary health care professionals – like nurses and clinical social workers – in palliative and hospice care techniques.

Legislators supporting PCHETA should be commended for their foresight, including co-sponsors Reps. Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in Democrats broaden probe into firing of State Department watchdog House chairman slams Pompeo for suggesting US could 'disconnect' from Australia over China deal MORE (D-N.Y.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedA quiet, overlooked revolution in congressional power Bipartisan Senate group offers new help to state, local governments GOP Rep. Pete King to buck party, vote for Democrats' coronavirus relief bill MORE (R-N.Y.) and Buddy CarterEarl (Buddy) Leroy CarterLoeffler works to gain traction with conservatives amid Collins primary bid Republicans came to the table on climate this year Republicans storm closed-door hearing to protest impeachment inquiry MORE (R-Ga.) in the House and Sens. Shelley Moore Capitol (R-W.Va) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWarren calls for investigation into OSHA inspections during pandemic Mail ballot surge places Postal Service under spotlight Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report MORE (D-Wis.) in the Senate. This legislation recently cleared the House Energy & Commerce Committee and is now poised for a full chamber vote this week.

I encourage the Congress to pass PCHETA to ensure the health of the hospice and palliative care workforce. I also ask Congress to continue this momentum and pass the Rural Access to Hospice Act (RAH), which ensures that all Americans, regardless of their zip code, can access critical serious-illness and end-of-life care. By passing both PCHETA and RAH, lawmakers will be ensuring more Americans have access to a comfortable, dignified death when the time comes.

Edo Banach, JD is President & CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and of the Hospice Action Network.