Medicare Proposes Paying for Discussions on End-of-Life Care

July 8, 2015

After years of debate about whether the government should encourage end-of-life planning – an idea that Sarah Palin claimed would lead to “death panels” cutting off care to the sick – Medicare, the federal program that insures 55 million older and disabled Americans, is now proposing to reimburse doctors for having conversations with patients about whether and how they would want to be kept alive if they become too sick to speak for themselves.
This new policy, announced Wednesday, comes at a time when patients, families and health providers are placing greater emphasis on allowing people to choose the way they die – whether that means trying every possible medical option to stay alive or discontinuing life support for those who do not want to be sustained by ventilators and feeding tubes.
Since Medicare often sets the standard for private insurers as well, the new policy will likely prompt many more doctors to engage patients in such discussions about their preferences. Some private health insurance companies have recently begun covering advance care planning conversations, and more are likely to adopt reimbursement now.