By Craig Dresang, CEO, Yolo Hospice
Originally published in The Davis Enterprise
Despite the quarrelsome and divided nature of this year’s presidential election, it’s good to know that some lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, are working together on key issues that will eventually impact people living with a life-limiting illness.
Many of the policy changes being discussed at the national level could potentially mean significant and positive reforms for nonprofit hospice and palliative care programs. These changes would lead to greater accountability for healthcare providers and higher levels of care for all Americans.
Through the National Partnership for Hospice Innovation (NPHI), Yolo Hospice was fortunate enough to meet with a few of these lawmakers and demonstrate its commitment to taking on an active role as guardians of the public interest in end-of-life care. Our organization, which one member of NPHI described as “small but mighty,” participated in a recent Senate Briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. The event, titled “30+ years of person-centered care: Innovations in hospice and the future” was co-sponsored by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA).
At this important April 19 briefing, Senator Whitehouse introduced NPHI, whose mission is to influence the future of hospice and advanced illness care through innovation and collaboration, as “The best in class of the industry.” He went on to say, “The National Partnership for Hospice Innovation is really important. It’s essential to expand access to hospice. If you’re plotting to take over the world, please consider me an ally in your plot.” The senator also reacted to recent articles in the Wall Street Journal, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the New York Times that have highlighted the misuse of hospice, largely among for-profit hospice companies.
Senator Isakson then shared a personal and moving story about his mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, and the burden it placed on the family. He also explained how an uncoordinated system of care created even greater stress for his mother’s caregivers. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) chimed into the discussion and talked about the need for a “hospice-lite” program for people who are still in the curative phase of treatment.
Together, members of NPHI from across the country stated their case before lawmakers explaining why the group is a critical voice in shaping the future of care for people with a life-limiting illness. Leah Morris, a Yolo Hospice nurse practitioner said, “We all wanted to show our enthusiasm for being a problem-solving organization that can work with lawmakers in helpful and collaborative ways. The issues we are facing are not unique to northern California. These are national challenges.”
The NPHI membership is a nationwide collaborative of not-for-profit, community integrated hospice and palliative care providers. Each member plays a unique role as a crucial safety net for the sickest, most vulnerable patients in the communities they serve. Last year, our collective programs across 21 states served more than 140,000 patients and families in both urban and rural areas. The group also provided nearly $32 million in charity care and unfunded programs, and garnered one million hours of volunteer support from 20,000 volunteers.
The motivation for the April briefing stems from 2014, when the United States Senate Committee on Finance took its first step in an important initiative to improve care for the millions of Americans managing chronic illness. They held a hearing called “Chronic Illness: Addressing Patients’ Unmet Needs.” Senators heard compelling testimony from individuals battling multiple chronic medical conditions. They also heard from health plans, employers, and providers about the challenges they face in trying to offer higher quality care at lower cost.
Last year, that same committee held a second hearing entitled, “A Pathway to Improving Care for Medicare Patients with Chronic Conditions.” Senators heard testimony from experts at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (Med PAC). The hearing gave members an opportunity to examine how the coordination of chronic care programs are working, the challenges that remain, and possible solutions to improve health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries. At that meeting, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced the formation of a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee Chronic Care Working Group, co-chaired by Senators Johnny Isakson and Mark Warner.
Last May, the working group issued a letter formally inviting all interested stakeholders to submit their ideas, based on real-world experience and data-driven evidence, on ways to improve outcomes for vulnerable Medicare beneficiaries living with multiple chronic health conditions.
The request for input generated 530 stakeholder recommendations including several from NPHI. Some of that input focuses on ways that CMS and Congress could work together to advance best practices and set standards for excellence nationwide.
We are grateful to the handful of lawmakers who are committed to working with NPHI on these critical issues. In the meantime, Yolo Hospice will continue to play a role with NPHI in shaping care for our communities and giving voice to, and creating, our own future.
Yolo Hospice is the only program in the Sacramento Valley that is a member of NPHI. For more information visit their website at www.hospiceinnovations.org.