Massachusetts Legislature Passes Critical Quality of Life Legislation

Boston – In the waning days of legislative activity for the 2013-2014 session, the Massachusetts legislature passed a crucial piece of legislation that will improve the quality of life for people managing a chronic disease, such as cancer, through expanded access to palliative care. The bill was sent to the governor’s desk yesterday after same day approval in both the House and the Senate.

The bill, filed by Representative Chris Walsh, will improve the quality and delivery of patient-centered, family-focused care in Massachusetts by establishing a State Advisory Council on Palliative Care and Quality of Life, a Palliative Care Consumer and Professional Information and Education Program and a palliative care access initiative in the Commonwealth.

“The legislature took an important step in making sure anyone in Massachusetts facing serious illness like cancer will have meaningful access to this more comprehensive model of care,” said Marc Hymovitz, state government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society.

Palliative care is a growing field of specialized medical care that improves the quality of life of patients and their families by focusing on relief from pain, stress and other symptoms of treatment for a serious disease such as cancer. Palliative care is appropriate at any age and any stage of a serious illness and can be provided with curative treatment. It is delivered by trained specialists who work together with doctors and nurses in a team-based approach that focuses on the patients’ needs, explains treatment options and gives patients and their families a voice in determining their treatment and care.

“We have become good at treating many illnesses, but too often, we don’t address the effects of treatment on the patient.” Hymovtiz said. “Palliative care treats the person beyond the disease.  It is focused on providing patients with relief from the symptoms – depression, nutrition, pain and stress of a serious illness making them more comfortable at any point of their treatment.  It is as important as treating the illness itself.”

Despite the benefits, palliative care remains a mystery to many Americans. Research shows that a majority, 70 percent, of Americans are “not at all knowledgeable” about palliative care. Yet, the survey also revealed that once consumers understand palliative care provides an increased emphasis on relief of symptoms, pain and stress that is appropriate at any stage of serious illness, 92 percent of Americans would be likely to consider it for themselves or their families and think it should be available in hospitals nationwide.

ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem. ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit www.acscan.org.