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Medicare moves to cover end-of-life counseling

7-8-2015 - Medicare has proposed a policy change that would permit it to pay for counseling sessions requested by beneficiaries to discuss their end-of-life care options with their physicians. Coverage would begin in 2016.

A 2014 report from the Institute of Medicine, Dying in America, documents what is commonly known: Many people spend their last days unnecessarily uncomfortable, undergoing painful and invasive treatments that fail to extend life. Medicare's proposal, contend supporters such as the American Medical Association and the AARP, would educate patients and families about the full spectrum of  options, from palliative care to more rigorous life-extending options.  

The proposal has its critics, too. The National Right to Life organization, for example, has indicated that unmonitored counseling sessions could push people into foregoing life-saving treatments. This is an echo of the controversy that erupted over a similar proposal that was included in the first iteration of the Affordable Care Act. At that time, Sarah Palin and others characterized Medicare-funded patient-doctor discussions about end-of-life care as a precursor to "death panels." Ultimately, Medicare coverage of end-of-life planning counseling was scrubbed from the legislation.

Comment period for the proposal closes on Sept. 8, 2015. Coverage would begin in 2016. You can read the proposal here.

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