I have always yearned for a Medicare Benefit for palliative care services, so it was with some excitement that I read an e-mail from MedPAC inviting me to a meeting in Washington March 23, to discuss palliative care.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) is an independent Congressional agency established by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 to advise the U.S. Congress on issues affecting the Medicare program. The Commission’s statutory mandate is quite broad: In addition to advising the Congress on payments to private health plans participating in Medicare and providers in Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service program, MedPAC is also tasked with analyzing access to care, quality of care, and other issues affecting Medicare.

The Commission staff invited a diverse group of palliative care specialists to come to Washington to discuss general issues such as the definitions and scope of non-hospice palliative care, the strength of the evidence that palliative care improves quality, outcomes, and service use, and factors that enable or hinder the delivery of palliative care.

The conference was attended by MedPAC staff, a moderator from the Lewin Group, and Janet Bull (Four Seasons, NC), Lyn Ceronsky(Fairview Services, Minneapolis), Timothy Keay (U Md Ca Center, Baltimore), Randall Krakauer (Aetna, NJ), James Lee (Everett Clinic, Washington), Diane Meier (CAPC , NY), Susan Mitchell (Harvard Aging Research, Boston), Michael Nisco (UC & Hospice, Fresno), Russell Portenoy (Beth Israel, NY), Greg Sachs (U of Indiana Aging Research, Indianapolis), Linda Todd (Hospice and PACE of Siouxland, Indiana), and myself.

It soon became clear that a new benefit for palliative care services is not on anyone’s drawing board, but the inclusion of palliative care services in new initiatives like Accountable Care Organizations, Community Health Teams to Support the Patient-Centered Medical Home, Hospital Value Based Purchasing, or Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation at the Center for Medicare Services is a possibility.

It was an energized discussion of wide-ranging aspects of our field, and we all hope the MedPAC staff can use what they learned from us to help Medicare beneficiaries with serious illnesses get the best possible care.

Porter Storey MD

Executive VP, AAHPM

Colorado Permanente Medical Group

Boulder, CO