The Senate Committee on Health yesterday unanimously approved a measure to expand a children’s palliative care pilot program to the adult population of California.
“This bill would direct the Department of Health Care Services to seek a waiver to evaluate a palliative care benefit in the Medi-Cal program,” said Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina). A pilot program to provide palliative care for children has been tremendously successful, Hernandez said, and it’s time to try that same model of care on adults.
“Patients live longer, they have a better quality of life and fewer hospital stays,” Hernandez said. “It’s good public policy for Medi-Cal to explore palliative care benefits.”
Not only is the service itself beneficial, but it saves the state money, according to Terri Warren, president of the board for the Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition of California.
“It has proven to save Medi-Cal more than $1,600 per beneficiary per month [in the children’s pilot program],” Warren said. “There’s no reason to believe this service wouldn’t have the same outcomes for seniors.”
Warren said end-of-life care is delivered where people want it, in the home, and that’s where cost of care is lowest, she said.
“It’s not only the right thing to do for people,” she said, “it’s the cost-effective way to deliver care.”
SB 1004 authored by Hernandez had no organized opposition.
“We think doing this [adult] pilot makes a lot of sense,” said Barbara Glaser, senior legislative advocate for the California Hospital Association, “and we do think we’ll find this is a benefit that should be offered to Medi-Cal adult beneficiaries.”
Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) said, given the aging population in California, this is an issue that must be confronted.
“We need to move it forward quickly,” Wolk said. “One in five of us in the next year or two will be over the age of 65. So it’s time.”
The bill passed committee on a 9-0 vote and now heads to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
“If we’re going to be talking about health care reform, [end-of-life care] has to be part of the discussion, as uncomfortable as it is,” Hernandez said. “Looking at the success of the children’s program, I look at this as the next step, toward a much broader conversation about how we deal with end of life.”