The Illinois Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (IL-HPCO) enjoyed a busy and successful year advocating for policies that both improve access to hospice and palliative care and make life better for our members and their patients. 

At a state level, all three of IL-HPCO’s priority bills passed out of the IL General Assembly and were signed into law by Governor Pritzker. These included the Pediatric Palliative Care Act which establishes a pathway for Home-Based Pediatric Palliative Care to become a covered benefit for appropriate children enrolled in IL Medicaid. The bill, sponsored by Senators Laura Fine (Glenview) and Julie Morrison (Deerfield) and Representative Robyn Gable (Evanston), lays out the criteria for a qualifying child; services to be delivered and reimbursed under the program; qualifications of the interdisciplinary team; requirements for providers to deliver services and standards for technical assistance to managed care organizations. The program still needs CMS approval before the IL Department of Health and Family Services can begin administering it, and IL-HPCO hopes this will happen in early 2022.

Additionally, IL-HPCO and its POLST Committee worked with an extensive group of stakeholders including the Illinois State Medical Society, State Bar Association and Health & Hospital Association to amend the Health Care Surrogate Act and provisions of that law relating to POLST. The legislative victory was championed by Senator Sara Feigenholtz (Chicago) and Representative Robyn Gable (Evanston). While this law won’t be effective until a new form and new regulations are in place sometime next year, it will eventually make it easier for hospices to use the POLST form to honor their patients’ wishes around life-sustaining treatment. Next year, IL-HPCO will hold a POLST Town Hall to educate providers on the revised POLST form and regulations.

Finally, IL-HPCO joined the broad-based Coalition to Protect Telehealth to pass a new law ensuring that commercial insurers reimburse in-network healthcare professionals and facilities for delivering telehealth services on the same basis, in the same manner, and at the same reimbursement rate that would apply to in-person services. Insurers must now cover clinically appropriate, medically necessary telehealth services (real-time audio or audio/video interactions), e-visits, and virtual check-ins in the same manner as any other benefits covered under the policy. 

At the national level, IL-HPCO was honored to be part of the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization’s Virtual Hill Day. The IL-HPCO legislative team, as well as several employees of IL-HPCO member hospice agencies, visited with staffers who support our IL Congressional Delegation, including aides from Senator Duckworth’s and Durbin’s offices, Representative Danny Davis’s and Marie Newman’s offices as well as with Representative Jan Schakowsky herself! The event focused on encouraging US lawmakers to vote in favor of the Palliative Care & Hospice Education and Training Act, the Expanding Access to Palliative Care Act (S. 2565), the CONNECT for Health Act (S. 1512/H.R. 2903) and the Telehealth Modernization Act (S. 368/H.R. 1332).  These bills build on the efficiencies gained during the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and allow the choice for continued access to care delivered through telehealth. It specifically allows the use of telehealth during face-to-face recertification for eligibility of hospice.

Looking forward to 2022, IL-HPCO will continue hosting the Room & Board Pass Through Elimination Workgroup, begun in 2020, partnering with Illinois HomeCare & Hospice Council, Leading Age Illinois, IL Health Care Association, Petersen Health Care, and the IL Association of Medicaid Health Plans. Our joint goal is to have the Department of Health Care & Family Services adjust it’s contracts with MCOs to require direct payment of room and board charges for hospice patients who are covered under managed-Medicaid and are residents of nursing facilities.

Additionally, our Government Affairs Committee hopes to support state legislation aimed at Medicaid-funded LTC reform that includes a Nurse Licensure Compact legislation, which amends the Nurse Practice Act to allow for a multistate license that would permit a licensed nurse to practice in Illinois and other compact states and a compact state nurse to practice in Illinois without having to apply for additional practice licenses.

IL-HPCO is very excited to be joining a new coalition called Illinois Aging Together in 2022. This broad and collaborative group of stakeholders recognizes that Illinois’s population is aging, and that older adulthood should be a time for joy, celebration, and fulfillment. The group will work to develop and scale innovations and communicate policies around what our state needs to do to support equitable and healthy aging. Of course, we wish to see that plan include better access to high quality hospice and palliative care for older adults with serious illness. 

The focus of our engagement with both state and federal policymakers in 2022 will emphasize education about how community-based palliative care, at any stage of serious illness, can improve symptoms for the patient, reduce stress and suffering for the entire family and increase the number of days people can be at home rather than in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital. We look forward to continuing to advocate for all of Illinois’ hospice patients, palliative patients, their families, and the healthcare workers that make this vital care possible each and every day.