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Compassionate Care Act Introduced in Senate

Today, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Compassionate Care Act, a bill that would boost public and provider awareness of and access to advance care planning, hospice, and palliative care during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. The Coalition to Transform Advanced Care is proud to have supported Sen. Blumenthal on this legislation, and will continue to do so in the 117th Congress. We commend Sen. Blumenthal for introducing this bill and urge other leaders in the Senate to show their commitment to improving the quality of life for the seriously ill by co-sponsoring.

As the country continues to face the spread of the Coronavirus, advance care planning is more important than ever. Open conversations about care preferences and what matters most can offer comfort and relief during this time of great uncertainty. The Compassionate Care Act would help to raise public awareness of advance care planning while ensuring that current and future clinicians can build the skills needed to provide these services.

“Ensuring access to high-quality care planning, especially for the sickest and most vulnerable among us, is at the core of C-TAC’s mission,” says C-TAC Executive Director Jon Broyles. “The Compassionate Care Act can promote the value of advance care planning and equip providers with the tools they need to guide individuals through this process, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Compassionate Care Act would achieve this by developing a national public awareness campaign which would convey the importance of creating an end-of-life care plan using evidence-based, culturally competent messaging. The legislation would also create a grant and pilot program to implement advanced care programs in a range of schools, from medical and nursing schools to schools of social work. Students participating in the grant would be required to receive end-of-life care training before graduating. The legislation would also take steps to preserve and expand access to essential services, including adding homes as an eligible originating site for the delivery of advance care planning via telehealth under the Medicare program.

In addition to the advance care planning provisions, the bill would also direct more federal support to education and training around the person-centered, interdisciplinary care of hospice and palliative medicine, where there are huge existing workforce shortfalls made more dire by the COVID-19 pandemic. And critically, the Compassionate Care Act would also make permanent the pandemic-enacted flexibility allowing physicians to recertify patients for the Medicare hospice benefit via telehealth, rather than requiring an in-person visit. All of these measures allow people facing serious illness, who are especially vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, to receive the treatment they need in a setting that is right for them.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have announced a flurry of flexibilities aimed at expanding access to advance care planning during the public health emergency. Still, public perception of advance care planning could still be a barrier to its use. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year found that, while 80-90% of participants reported awareness of advance care planning, only 10-41% reported having named a care proxy or documented their wishes. Additionally, a 2018 survey found that only 29% of physicians reported having formal training in advance care planning.

We applaud Sen. Blumenthal for introducing the Compassionate Care Act and look forward to working alongside our partners in Congress in support of people with serious illness and those who matter most to them. Together, we can reach the moonshot goal of ensuring that 12 million people with serious illness have a high quality of life by 2030.

An overview of the bill is available here. To read the full text, please click here.

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