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 EngelGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Saudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Five changes Democrats will seek at Pentagon if they win power MORE (D-N.Y.), Tom ReedThomas (Tom) W. ReedDemocrats see hypocrisy in GOP attacks on ‘liberal mob’ GOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Moderate Blue Dogs endorse House rules overhaul to break gridlock MORE (R-N.Y.) and Buddy CarterEarl (Buddy) Leroy CarterTrump signs bills banning drug pricing 'gag clauses' Overnight Health Care: Trump officials defend Medicaid work requirements | HHS chief dismisses 'Medicare for all' as 'too good to be true' | Aetna sells Medicare drug business GOP lawmaker touts move to lift limits on telehealth for opioid treatment MORE (R-Ga.) in the House and Sens. Shelley Moore Capitol (R-W.Va) and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinHillicon Valley: Facebook deletes accounts for political 'spam' | Leaked research shows Google's struggles with online free speech | Trump's praise for North Korea complicates cyber deterrence | Senators want Google memo on privacy bug Poll: Baldwin leads GOP challenger by double digits in Wisconsin The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Trump, Pence fan out to protect the Rust Belt 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.