Six years after the proposal asking Medicare to offer end-of-life counselling reimbursements caused massive uproar among lawmakers, the federal program has finally accepted the proposal.
Medicare currently insures over 55 million elderly and disabled Americans. On Wednesday, officials with the federal program announced this change, claiming that doctors will now be reimbursed for their conversations with patients on end-of-life care options.
Luckily, the idea isn’t as ill-viewed now as it was six years ago, when former Gov. Sarah Palin insisted that voluntary counseling on end-of-life care would ultimately lead to “death panels” sponsored by the government.
For the following 60 days, this proposal will be open for public comment, after which, if adopted, it will take effect on the 1st of January. Though many opponents are still harshly criticizing the initiative, Medicare’s plan reflects the wishes of many patients, families and health providers who are convinced that people should have a decisive role in how they die.
End-of-life counseling covers everything from possible medical options aimed at prolonging a patient’s life to DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) indications and life support discontinuation for those uneasy about having to depend on machines in order to survive.
Currently, there are doctors who voluntarily discuss these issues with their patients without billing that particular time. While private insurers have moved towards offering reimbursement for such discussions, Medicare hasn’t. And since 75% of the Americans who die daily are at least 65 years old, Medicare is the foremost insurer at the end of life.
Such discussions, proposal advocates explain, are essential in ensuring high-quality medical care. Though they are not pleasant, they are necessary, Patrick Conway, Medicare’s CMO said.
“I would want any American who wanted to have this conversation with their clinician to have the opportunity to do so,” he added.
Medicare’s decision has already been applauded by the American Medical Association. According to the AMA, this important issue has been subject to mischaracterizations in the past, and it’s precisely because of that reason that lawmakers have been reluctant to discussing it openly.
In fact, before former Gov. Palin’s government-funded “death panel” outcry, there had been a longstanding consensus as to the way that people should be offered information about the essential end-of-life decisions they have to make.
End-of-life discussions shouldn’t be regarded as taboo. They are a natural part of the life cycle and not giving a patient the opportunity of having such discussions is detrimental to the quality of the health services he or she is receiving.
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