Compassionate Care Act Introduced in Senate to Expand Advance Care Planning

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has introduced the Compassionate Care Act in the U.S. Senate. If enacted the bill would significantly expand federal resources to support advance care planning and end-of-life care decision making. The legislation would also finance public awareness campaigns about hospice and palliative care.

The Compassionate Care Act would establish a nationwide public education campaign to educate the people in the United States about the importance of advance care planning, including grants and pilot initiatives to educate students in medical, nursing, social work and other related fields about end-of-life discussions and care.

“This bill will help Americans have the difficult but necessary conversations about end-of-life care,” said Blumenthal. “The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded Americans of all ages of the importance to have a plan in place in case of severe illness or death.”

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Hospice providers nationwide are seeking and developing strategies for engaging with patients earlier in the course of their illness, as many patients come into hospice too late in the course of their disease to reap the full benefit of those services. One such strategy is to encourage early conversations about death, dying and associated health care goals and wishes.

A general lack of awareness or understanding of the nature of hospice and palliative care has been a significant obstacle to increasing utilization. Early conversations are positively associated with family decisions to limit or withdraw life-sustaining treatments, fewer in-hospital deaths, fewer unplanned hospital admissions, shorter hospital stays, family satisfaction with end-of-life care, and increased odds of receiving strong opioid pain medications in the last 24 hours of life, according to a study in the March 2019 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association.

“The Compassionate Care Act would help ensure patients receive the kinds of care they want when facing serious illness and the end of life,” said National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization President and CEO Edo Banach. “We applaud Senator Blumenthal’s leadership in advancing access to vital advance care planning, which centers the role of the patient and family in end of life care decision-making.”

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The Compassionate Care Act would also expand telehealth options for providers and patients related to end-of-life conversations as well as facilitate a study of a national advance care planning registry that would allow patients to transfer their advance directive across state lines. 

A host of industry groups have applauded the legislation, including endorsements from NHPCO, the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, Compassion & Choices, the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), National Partnership for Healthcare & Hospice Innovation (NPHI), American Heart Association, and the Connecticut Long Term Ombudsman Program.

“The Compassionate Care Act, if enacted, would create a valuable national infrastructure to support broader public understanding of the importance of advance care planning, increase the availability of education for practitioners and develop guidelines and quality measures for effective advance care plans,” said NAHC President Bill Dombi. “In short, the legislation provides a thoughtful, comprehensive, and responsible framework for improving our nation’s approach to advance care planning.”

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