In some rural areas, physician assistants may be the only health care professional available. According to American Academy of Physician Assistants nearly 300 million patient visits were made to physician assistants. Medicare coverage was originally extended to physician assistants through the 1977 Rural Health Clinic Services Act, but the program has never been updated to allow physician assistants to deliver hospice care.
Physician assistants can provide care to Medicare patients until the point when hospice care is needed, and patients must then find an alternative provider. This can disrupt the continuity of care at a time when the Medicare patient is most vulnerable. To correct this situation, Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Kent Conrad, D-N.D., have introduced bipartisan legislation to allow physician assistants to serve Medicare hospice patients.
"It makes sense to allow patients to continue to see the same health care provider through hospice care," Grassley said. "Patients benefit when they continue to see the health care professionals who know them. This provision is especially important for rural areas, where physician assistants provide a lot of direct care, and where access to providers is always a challenge."
Grassley and Conrad introduced the Medicare Hospice Care Access Act of 2011, which would allow physician assistants to provide hospice care to their patients who elect Medicare's hospice benefit. For individuals and families who rely on physician assistants as their principal health care professional, this legislation promises continuity of quality medical care when the Medicare beneficiaries and their families are most in need.
"We cannot apply a one-size-fits-all approach to health care in this country," Conrad said. "Physician assistants are a crucial part of the health care system in rural areas. They provide quality health care to our seniors and should be allowed to continue when the patient transitions to hospice care. This legislation will make this transition easier and allow physician assistants to continue to provide these patients with quality care throughout the process."