Our nation is talking a lot about access to affordable, high-quality health care right now.

Whatever the outcome of the current debates about the future of health care, one result will be this: the often opaque connection between health care policy and the everyday lives of people has come into stark relief. This is a good thing and hopefully will build even more momentum in other areas, such as the growing movement to improve care for people with serious illness or at the end of life.

Older adults with a serious illness such as cancer, or families with a loved one nearing the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, share many similarities with the people in town halls and rallies from Kentucky to Colorado who are passionately talking about the impact of health care policy on their lives. Their care needs are often complex. Government decisions about how to pay for and deliver that care have intense, deeply personal ramifications.

Standing behind all of these people are organizations working to make health care - and these people’s lives - better. We at The John A. Hartford Foundation have the great privilege of supporting and partnering with many of the groups that are implementing innovations and helping shape beneficial policies focused on the older adult population.

Those organizations involved in serious illness and end-of-life care have been hard at work over the past few months. They have been producing tools, sharing information, and advocating for person-centered care that meets the values, goals, and preferences of older adults and their families at an incredibly vulnerable and difficult stage of life. Here are just a few examples:
 

  • Organized by the Pew Charitable Trusts, 14 organizations - including our grantees the National POLST Paradigm, Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC), Coalition to Transform Advanced Care (C-TAC), and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) - co-signed an important letter to Tom Price, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and David Shulkin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The letter outlines key policy recommendations for improving serious illness and end-of-life care.
  • Health Affairs, another grantee, launched a new blog series on end-of-life and serious illness care supported by our partners at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. A very good post on opportunities for innovation in payment for palliative care services encourages the new administration to continue the progress toward high-value care for the seriously ill.
  • On the theme of payment policy that can support more access to palliative care, CAPC released this excellent primer. If you’ve been trying to understand health policy talk with terms like alternative payment models, risk-sharing, or MACRA - in any context, not just palliative care - this is one of the best reads you’ll find. (Additionally CAPC put out a very helpful report on the growth of hospital-based palliative care since 2009).
  • Having the public engaged, as people are now with the debates concerning health care, is another important component to promoting policies that increase access to high-quality serious illness and end-of-life care. An excellent starting point is to help people understand the importance of documenting their wishes for care should they be unable to speak for themselves. Our grantee The Conversation Project is helping communities prepare through their promotion of National Health Care Decisions Day, coming up April 16. Their recent webinar and a video they released can help you get engaged, too. The Conversation Project also just produced a fantastic new toolkit to help people understand the role of a health care proxy and thoughtfully choose one.

Meanwhile, in late February, the Annual Assembly of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) set a new attendance record, with more than 3,200 people, including nearly 1,000 nurses. The three-day event in Phoenix drew standing-room-only crowds to sessions led by grantees including VitalTalk and Ariadne Labs' Serious Illness Care Program.

And in another sign that the movement is gaining momentum, more than 30 funders are participating in a serious illness and end-of-life care interest group that The John A. Hartford Foundation has organized.

These are just a few examples of activities from outstanding groups that are working together with us to promote health policies and high-quality care that deeply and personally affect our everyday lives.

For older adults with serious illness or at the end of life, their families, and their health care teams, this work could not be more important.