March 21, 2013

Wyden and Reed Seek to Boost Palliative and Hospice Care

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., today introduced legislation aimed at readying the health care workforce for the growing need for palliative and hospice care.

The age wave is already straining access to hospice and palliative care for many Americans,” Wyden said.  “Providing more training and incentives to study and practice palliative and hospice care would mean fewer patients suffering from the symptoms, stress and pain of serious illnesses.

We must ensure there is a trained workforce capable of meeting the demands for new models of health care delivery,” Reed said. “Hospice and palliative care have become the standard of care for so many seriously ill persons and their families. These services can provide significant health cost savings while also improving outcomes. Supporting the education and training of providers in these areas of health care delivery will help enhance care for individuals and families coping with severe illness and life-threatening conditions and I am pleased to join Senator Wyden in this effort.

The Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) – focuses on training for new and existing doctors, those who teach palliative care, and other providers who are part of the palliative care team. It also provides academic and career awards to incentivize practice and study of palliative and hospice care.

The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine Workforce Task Force estimates that there is shortage of as many as 18,000 palliative care doctors in the U.S. The Center to Advance Palliative Care reports that over the last 10 years, the number of hospital-based palliative care programs has more than doubled, but the number of providers available to fulfill the needs of these patients has not kept pace. Currently, there is just one palliative care doctor for every 1,300 patients with a serious illness in the U.S. compared to one oncologist for every 145 patients with a new cancer diagnosis and one cardiologist for every 71 heart attack victims.

With approximately 10,000 seniors turning 65 every day for the next two decades more needs to be done to make sure all options are available for those dealing with a serious illness.

Palliative and hospice care focuses less on curative treatment of a specific disease and more on relieving and preventing patients’ suffering. Palliative and hospice providers work with the patient and their families as a team to try and determine their needs and goals in dealing with their illness.

The legislation, S. 641, focuses on three key areas to grow the palliative care and hospice workforce:

• Education centers to expand interdisciplinary training in palliative and hospice care

• Training of physicians who plan to teach palliative medicine and fellowships to encourage re-training of mid career physicians

• Academic career awards and career incentive awards to support physicians and other health care providers who provide palliative and hospice care training

A bipartisan version of this bill was introduced in the House by U.S. Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Tom Reed, R-N.Y.