Wisconsin Legislature Mulls Palliative Care Bill

A bi-partisan bill before the Wisconsin Legislature would set up a Palliative Care Council within the state’s Department of Health Services, as well as establish a public education program on palliative care.

If the bill is enacted, Wisconsin will join a growing list of states in establishing laws to promote palliative care as legislators and other stakeholders become increasingly aware of the benefits and potential cost savings that palliative care care produce.

“Palliative care is underutilized because of its unfamiliarity, this type of care provides comfort and support services to the patient and their family at any age and any stage in a serious illness,” Republican State Rep. Patrick Snyder, sponsor of the bill, told Hospice News. “This council would help strengthen and publicize how palliative care can help Wisconsin residents.”

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As of Dec. 2018, 27 states have laws on their books designed to promote palliative care, according to the National Academy of State Health Policy (NASHP). Though details of the legislation vary among the states, they each serve the goal of bringing palliative care to more patients with serious, chronic, or life-limiting conditions.

Adding to that number are several states that have passed similar pieces of legislation during the current year.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) earlier this month signed into law a bill that establishes a state advisory council on palliative care. The new law also includes provisions for a hospice and palliative care access program to expand public and clinician awareness with the goal of building a system to identify patients who need these types of care and educating them about its benefits for the seriously ill.

Ohio this year passed a law requiring hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes, and other health care organizations in the state to develop systems to identify patients or residents who are in need of palliative care and inform them about the benefits and availability of those services.

Also, Kentucky in March approved legislation creating a Palliative Care Interdisciplinary Advisory Council as well as a professional information and education program to help foster palliative care awareness.

Lack of awareness is a major barrier to palliative care expansion. A Journal of Palliative Medicine study, published in April, found that as many as 71% of people in the United States have little to no understanding of what palliative care is, including many clinicians in a position to refer patients to palliative care or hospice.

“Palliative care is an all-encompassing treatment designed to help ease all the facets of illness that patients and their families can face during treatment. Far from giving up, palliative care is a relatively new idea that can give loved ones the tools they need to reload their mind, body, and spirit for the next round of their fight,” Wisconsin state Rep. Ken Skowronski told Hospice News. “We hope that this bill, in ways big or small, will help improve outcomes for patients and make their lives a little easier.”