LIFE MATTERS MEDIA STAFF
Medicare will pay doctors for counseling patients about their end of life care options, the agency announced Friday.
The change comes nearly six years after similar proposals were dropped from President Obama’s health reform law and inaccurately compared to “death panels” by some conservative politicians.
The rule, proposed last summer as part of broader doctor-payment regulations, takes effect January 1. The counseling is voluntary.
Some physicians already have end of life conversations with their adult patients without billing for it, and some private insurers offer reimbursement.
Advocates hope Medicare coverage for some 55 million older Americans will make such talks more common and encourage patients to complete advance health care directives, such as a living will or power of attorney document.
“As a physician and a son, I personally know how important these discussions are for patients and families,” Dr. Patrick Conway, Medicare’s chief medical officer, told The Associated Press. “We believe patients and families deserve the opportunity to discuss these issues with their physician and care team.”
The ruling comes almost a year after a widely circulated report from the Institute of Medicine found that far too many Americans avoid serious discussion about their care wishes and as a result receive unwanted, unnecessary and often painful treatments in their last moments of life.
The report cited the present as the best time to encourage advance care planning, partly because of the aging population and growing number of Americans living longer with chronic diseases.
The majority of people nearing death are not physically, mentally or cognitively able to make their own decisions about care.
“Therefore, advance care planning is essential to ensure that patients receive care reflecting their values, goals, and preferences,” according to the 2014 report. “Of people who indicate end of life care preferences, most choose care focused on alleviating pain and suffering. However, because the default mode of hospital treatment is acute care, advance planning and medical orders are needed to ensure that these preferences are honored.”