November 16, 2004

Wyden Fights for Better End-of-Life Health Care

Senator introduces two bills that aim to improve terminal illness care and hospice care

Washington, DC As part of his ongoing efforts to improve healthcare for all Americans, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) today introduced two pieces of legislation aimed at providing better care options for dying patients. The first Wyden bill, the Palliative Care Training Act, recognizes the need for a larger pool of health care professionals who know how to help terminally ill patients to have a better quality of life. The second bill, the Medicare Hospice Demonstration Act, seeks to test ways to improve the Medicare hospice benefit.Our healthcare system is structured to cure but it often neglects how to make dying patients and their families more comfortable, said Wyden. With all the American health system has to offer, we need to make sure resources are put in place to provide patients and their families better care in their last days.Palliative care improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problems associated with life-threatening illness. It does so through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification, assessment and the treatment of pain and other physical, psychosocial and spiritual problems. It neither hastens nor postpones death. The Palliative Care Training Act uses the model already in place under law for other specialties to create a Hospice and Palliative Care Academic Career Award. The award proposed in Wydens bill would foster the creation of faculty at medical schools to teach palliative care once it is recognized as a board-certified specialty.No one likes to think about what it will be like at the end of our lives, stated Wyden. We rarely have the discussions we need to have with our medical providers about how to help us have a good death. This measure would increase incentives for families and doctors alike to talk about alternative, effective measures to greatly improve end-of-life care.The Medicare Hospice Demonstration Act would permit Medicare patients to seek hospice care as they continue curative treatment. While Congress made improvements in the Medicare Hospice benefit last year, Wydens proposed legislation would allow for further testing of new ways of providing hospice care. New hospice care opportunities would increase the likelihood that more seniors would not only be aware of the benefit, but would also have increased access to hospice care when needed.I believe more people would use the hospice benefit if they did not have to give up hope of recovery. Patients can seek hospice care at the same time as they seek to be cured, said Wyden. That capability, along with counseling assistance provided by this legislation, could better equip the medical community to help patients accept hospice care.Wyden has long been one of the Senates leading proponents of meaningful health care reform. In addition to the two pieces of legislation introduced today, Wyden also introduced the Conquering Pain Act in 2003. Together, these bills represent Wyden's efforts to improve the way Americans can access services if they are terminally ill.