Compassion & Choices works in the halls of Congress and federal agencies, calling on policymakers to improve end-of-life care by supporting legislation and regulation that allows people to be the primary deciders in their end-of-life care. We envision a patient-directed system that honors and respects patients’ values, priorities and spiritual beliefs and sees those touchstones as the hallmark of patient-directed care. We are advancing federal legislation and regulatory change focused on:
- Strengthening and expanding the full spectrum of end-of-life care such as advance care planning, hospice care, and palliative care, while protecting end-of-life options and patient autonomy from federal efforts to weaken or overturn federal and state laws.
- Addressing disparities in end-of-life care for historically disadvantaged populations and advancing healthcare equity at life’s end.
- Expanding professional end-of-life care education, training and development for all healthcare professionals.
- Preventing healthcare entities from disregarding patient values and preferences by refusing care due to their ethical directives and policy-based restrictions
Federal Policy Summit on Inequities in End-of-Life Care
Inequities in end-of-life healthcare are systemic and persistent for racially and ethnically diverse communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and those with disabilities. Change requires the collective voices and work of many people, organizations, policymakers, health systems and others — we are committed to this work.
Armed with data from our environmental scan, Compassion & Choices convened its first annual summit in November, 2021: Addressing Inequities in End-of-Life Planning and Care: Advancing Equity at Life’s End.
Fourteen medical, policy and social service experts from across the country along with our partner organizations joined with Compassion & Choices.
- reviewed the latest research on disparities in end-of-life planning and care;
- discussed current challenges and potential solutions; and
- established shared conclusions, and
- developed national policy recommendations
The culmination of that work was presented in a summit report that includes a comprehensive review of potential actions that can be taken to address inequities in end-of-life care and planning. Compassion & Choices and our coalition partners are now:
- working to create a federal policy agenda to address these inequities
- Incorporating these provisions into existing legislation
- generating public and media awareness about these inequities and
- translating the summit report into Spanish, a contribution that is being led by NCOA
Legislation We Support
Compassion & Choices advocates for federal legislation that seeks to improve quality end-of-life care and planning and to address inequities in access and care.
Compassionate Care Act (awaiting introduction) — Promoting culturally responsive advance care planning and end-of-life care through physician education and public awareness campaigns; addressing hospice Medicare coverage limitations; and developing strategies for implementing advance care planning national policies.
Why it matters:
We live in a highly fragmented healthcare system, where clinicians providing medical care often have no knowledge or ability to access a patient’s advance directive. As a result, clinicians are put into the unfathomable position of having to make life-altering end-of-life care decisions without knowing the patient’s preference. The Compassionate Care Act addresses these challenges head on by:
- Calling for national advance care planning guidelines;
- Developing methods for properly educating providers; and
- Studying how to improve the usability and portability of, and compliance with, advance directives.
‘‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act’’ or “CARES Act” (H.R. 748). This bipartisan law helps ensure more Americans, particularly those most medically vulnerable, have access to quality healthcare, without having to spend their final days and months burdened by countless unnecessary doctors appointments or even worse, unable to access care at all. Read about our collaborative work with other organizations to secure key telehealth visions of the CARES Act in 2020.
Do No Harm Act (introduced 2021) — Prohibiting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) from being used to deny patients access to healthcare services, information, referrals and other government-funded goods or services. It would amend RFRA in order to restore the original intent of the legislation by specifically exempting areas of law where RFRA has been used to bypass federal protections.
Why it matters:
Many healthcare entities and organizations have worked to distort RFRA into a blank check to discriminate or to impose their religious beliefs on others. The bill would:
- Ensure that religious freedom is used as a shield to protect the Constitutional right to free exercise of religion and not a sword to discriminate against patients.
Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act (PCHETA) (awaiting introduction) — Amending the Public Health Service Act to increase the number of faculty at accredited Palliative Care Schools to help facilitate comprehensive and integrated education of healthcare professionals.
Why it matters:
This bill is an important step to addressing critical gaps in palliative care to ensure that all Americans living with a terminal illness can get the care they deserve. Increased palliative medicine training and education, from medical school students to seasoned professionals, will:
- Modernize end-of-life care delivery and ensure greater access to end-of-life care when, where and how patients need it.
Removing Barriers to Person and Family-Centered Care Act (awaiting introduction) — Establishes a program that allows entities to implement alternative payment models for Medicare and/or Medicaid beneficiaries who have advanced chronic conditions (e.g., late-stage cancer) and have demonstrated cognitive or functional limitations.
Why it matters
This new program would promote better coordination between healthcare providers, placing greater emphasis on individual patient needs. It would:
- Allow Medicare patients to receive palliative care and curative treatment at the same time.
- Allow patients to receive Medicare coverage in a skilled nursing home without a consecutive three-day inpatient hospital stay.
- Allow Medicare patients to receive home health services without the requirement that they be homebound.
- Allow nurse practitioners to sign home health and hospice care plans and certify patients for the hospice benefit.
Compassion & Choices provided provisions that seek to address inequities in end-of-life care for potential inclusion in the legislation.
Legislation We Strongly Oppose
We continue to fight federal legislation that seeks to prohibit or restrict medical aid in dying, including:
Assisted Suicide Funding Restrictions Act (ASFRA) (seeking repeal) —Prohibits the use of federal funds to provide or pay for any healthcare item or service or health benefit coverage for the purpose of causing, or assisting to cause, the death of any individual.
Why it matters
The Act denies patients in ten states and Washington, DC (22% of total U.S. adults) access to medical aid in dying if they cannot afford to pay for access on their own. Specifically, the Act:
- Wrongly suggests that assisted suicide is the same thing as medical aid in dying.
- Disproportionately harms Veterans, those who are less economically advantaged and historically underserved populations.
- Denies informed access to all available healthcare options at the end of life, including advanced directives, hospice care, pain management, palliative care, refusing unwanted medical treatment, palliative sedation and medical aid in dying.
HCONRES68 (introduced) — Expresses the sense of Congress that medical aid in dying puts everyone, including the most vulnerable, at risk of deadly harm. This is a non-binding resolution that has no weight of law.
Why it matters
Compassion & Choices opposes legislation hindering patient access to medical aid in dying, a compassionate end-of-life care option. This legislation ignores decades of data showing the positive impacts of medical aid in dying legislation and implies that medical aid in dying causes harm, even when hospice and palliative care do not meet patient end-of-life care needs. While concerning, support for the resolution has dropped each time it has been reintroduced and it offers the opportunity to educate Members of Congress and their staff on medical aid in dying and ensure they have the correct information.
- Seeking to permanently vacate the proposed rule, “Protecting Statutory Conscience Rights In Health Care (83 FR 3880),” from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which attempted to allow medical providers expanded exemptions from critical healthcare services beyond what the law currently allows. Compassion & Choices garnered signatures for its sign-on letter from 50 organizations who share our concerns.
- Reverse the waiver of the Patient Self-Determination Act, which requires hospitals to inform patients about their advance directive policies and the patient’s right to refuse treatment. Compassion & Choices delivered a letter to Congress and a letter to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Secretary Alex Azar, respectively, strongly urging the rescission of this waiver. Further, Compassion & Choices prepared a sign-on letter joined by 12 national organizations and 5,000 individuals urging rescission of the waiver.
- Establish Comprehensive Telehealth Reform. Compassion & Choices signed on with 336 diverse organizations to urge Congressional leaders to facilitate permanent telehealth reform through:
- Require HHS complete evaluations related to telehealth by Fall 2023 to create recommendations that inform permanent telehealth legislation
- Take up permanent, evidence-based telehealth legislation for implementation in 2024.
- Authorization of the continuation of all current telehealth waivers through Dec 2024.
Compassion & Choices participates in the following coalitions:
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Through advocacy and outreach to targeted constituencies, The Leadership Conference works toward the goal of a more open and just society – an America as good as its ideals. Among the 200+ conference members are American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Campaign and the National Black Justice Coalition.
Leadership Council of Aging Organizations is a large coalition of national nonprofit organizations serving older Americans. The diverse member association is dedicated to preserving and strengthening the well-being of America’s older population. They provide a voice for seniors and their families in the ongoing national debate on aging policy. Council members include AARP, American Public Health Association, Jewish Federations of North America, National Association for Home Care & Hospice, and the AFL-CIO.
National Coalition on Mental Health & Aging is comprised of over 80 members representing professional, consumer and government organizations with expertise in mental health and aging issues. Its goal is to work together toward improving the availability and quality of mental health preventive and treatment services to older Americans and their families. Coalition members include the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Leading Age, and National Association of Social Workers.