Hospice month celebrates success of nation’s first coordinated care model
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While there’s no shortage of partisan disagreements on Capitol Hill, one hopes the combative environment that’s become the norm in Washington might take a brief pause now that midterm elections are behind us. At a time when unity and common ground are sorely needed in our politics and our policymaking, one health care program stands out as a reminder of how bipartisanship works at its best: the Medicare Hospice Benefit.

This extraordinary policy achievement was made possible by lawmakers who put aside their differences in the interest of the Americans they served. Enacted as a demonstration in 1978 and a Medicare benefit in 1982, hospice programs have served millions of Americans and their families with compassionate care to relieve pain, manage symptoms, supported beneficiaries and their family caregivers, and provided bereavement services for individuals following the death of a loved one. The benefit has been invaluable to patients and lifesaving for families. And it never would have happened without lawmakers who were committed to the concept, and to working together.

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Democrats, including Sens. John Glenn (Ohio) and Bill Bradley (N.J.), joined with Republican senators like Bob Dole (Kan.) and Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyDem calls for Cohen to testify before Senate panel over explosive report Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees IRS shutdown plan fails to quell worries MORE (Iowa) to pass what then-Rep. Leon Panetta (D-Calif.) called a “political miracle.” Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.) personally collected commitments from 68 senators to pass the Heinz-Dole-Packwood amendment to provide hospice services to terminally ill Medicare patients.

Not only did this bipartisan act show how a diverse group of legislators could come together for the good of the country but the hospice benefit itself has become an example of how our fragmented health care system can – and should – work together for the betterment of patients. As America’s original coordinated care model, hospice brings together a multidisciplinary team of providers to meet all aspects of a dying patient’s physicial, spiritual and emotional needs. No other health care sector is required to address all aspects of a patient’s, and their family’s, health and wellbeing.

Those elected to serve in the upcoming Congress should know that hospice is a program that works and a Medicare benefit that matters to their constituents. As seasoned and novice legislators alike consider health policy reforms, they should look to the success of the hospice model as an example of preserving what works, and help expand access to comprehensive, coordinated care and person- and family- centered care to all patients with serious, advanced and life-limiting illness. We should also reinforce the foundation of hospice to ensure access, choice and quality care at the end of life.

Hospice is not only best for patients at the end of life, it is also good for the Medicare program. Study after study show hospice care improves quality of life, delivers on patient and family satisfaction and reduces unnecessary costs for Medicare beneficiaries at the end of life. Thirty-plus years later, hospice is a reminder that there are policy solutions that work for both sides of the aisle and across our nation for all Americans. The fruits of cooperation live on today in a Medicare benefit that serves 1.43 million Americans annually.

It’s sometimes unclear if the dust will ever settle in Washington, and if we’ll ever get back to a place of collegiality and bipartisanship in Congress. If our nation’s remarkable hospice benefit is any indication, great things can certainly happen if it does.

Edo Banach is President and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO).