The controversial issue of reimbursing doctors discussing end-of-life plans with patients has re-emerged — minus the “death panel” label — with the chance it may soon be covered by Medicare.
According to a New York Times report, many private insurers have started covering these talks between doctors and patients under the title of “advanced care planning.” These companies attribute the growing interest in these discussions to the increasing amount of people living longer with illnesses.
The rising number of private insurers covering this practice has led to the federal agency running Medicare to consider reimbursing end-of-life planning, if it approves a request by the American Medical Association to do so.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wouldn’t officially comment on the matter to The New York Times, but the agency will make a decision on reimbursement this fall and usually accepts recommendations from the A.M.A. Medicare’s approval of coverage would likely lead to more doctors and insurers offering the option to patients.
“We think it’s really important to incentivize this kind of care,” Dr. Barbara Levy, an A.M.A. official, told The Times.“The idea is to make sure patients and their families understand the consequences, the pros and cons and options so they can make the best decision for them.”
Politically, the issue has been a hotbed of controversy in recent years and rose to the forefront during the debate surrounding Obamacare. Labelled “death panels” by some conservatives, it was believed that Obamacare covering these discussions would amount to the suspension of care for the terminally ill, the elderly and other members of society.
“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care,” Sarah Palin, one of the main proponents of the death panel term, wrote in a 2009 Facebook post. “Such a system is downright evil.”
The outcry over Obamacare’s alleged support of “death panels” prompted the composers of the Affordable Care Act to drop provisions that would cover “voluntary advance care planning.”
But the political atmosphere has changed since then, and two bipartisan bills have been proposed in Congress that would allow Medicare to cover such talks between doctors and patients.
However, there are still some critics — such as Burke Balch, the director of the National Right to Life Committee’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics — who believes allowing these discussions would pressure patients to reject life-preserving treatment.