Bipartisan Congressional efforts to expand palliative care utilization and combat ongoing staffing shortages are proceeding apace with the introduction of the Provider Training in Palliative Care Act by Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
The bill would make palliative care medicine an eligible primary care service under the National Health Service Corps program, which offers scholarships and loan repayment to primary care providers in eligible disciplines.
“Countless patients facing serious illness or injury can benefit from the practice of palliative care,” Rosen said.“Palliative care is an option that does not get the attention it deserves and is proven to improve outcomes as well as reduce the cost of treatment. This bipartisan legislation will help strengthen the skills of our medical workforce in Nevada and across the country to better meet the needs of patients and families in need, especially those in rural and underserved areas.”
Palliative care has been shown to be effective at improving quality of life, mood, coping, managing pain, and facilitating earlier conversations about hospice. Research indicates that palliative care could reduce societal health care costs by $103 billion within the next 20 years.
Though a mounting body of evidence supports the benefits of palliative care, stakeholders in the field fear that the size of the workforce is inadequate to meet growing demand, a challenge that is likely to get worse before it improves. The number of palliative care clinicians across multiple disciplines is expected to decline substantially during the next two decades as a result of retirements and staff leaving the field due to burn out, recent research shows.
Earlier this year, Congress began mulling the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA), sponsored by Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-NY) and 285 bipartisan co-sponsor, which if enacted would allocate funds to bolster the ranks of permanent faculty in academic institutions that train hospice and palliative care providers, with the ultimate goal of growing the workforce.
The Provider Training in Palliative Care Act is distinct from PCHETA due to its focus on the National Health Service Corps.
“When a patient receives a serious medical diagnosis, the list of symptoms and side effects from the illness and its treatments can be extensive. For those patients, palliative care plays a significant role in minimizing pain and discomfort and maximizing quality of life,” said Murkowski, co-sponsor of the bill. “By officially recognizing palliative care as a subspecialty of public health services, we’re opening the door for those working in the industry to access the training they need to give their patients the quality care they deserve. For a state like Alaska, which faces a shortage of palliative care physicians against a rapidly growing aging population, this change in terminology is important.”