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Saturday, January 8th 2011

The End Is Nigh…The Right Insists

I recently talked about what changes came into effect on the New Year under the Affordable Care Act. One of the tangential things I didn’t comment on was an executive Medicare regulation running parallel to congressional efforts which came into effect January 1st and promised to pay providers for any time spent discussing end of life issues with patients.

The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Under the rule, doctors can provide information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive,” stating how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are so sick that they cannot make health care decisions for themselves.

Section 1233 of the bill passed by the House in November 2009 – but not included in the final legislation – allowed Medicare to pay for consultations about advance care planning every five years. In contrast, the new rule allows annual discussions as part of the wellness visit.

The proposal for Medicare coverage of advance care planning was omitted from the final health care bill because of the uproar over unsubstantiated claims that it would encourage euthanasia.

The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Critics decried the new rule as taking control away from patients and devaluing life and setting up death panels.

There is…something at least vaguely disturbing about a government incentivizing doctors to [discuss end of life issues] as part of an expansive regulatory program that has, as one of its primary goals, cost reduction.

At least the linked to criticism at Hot Air,

There is nothing wrong with patients planning for contingencies through advance directives. There is also nothing wrong with doctors discussing those options with patients ahead of those decisions. As the spouse of a patient who has faced life-threatening circumstances on more than one occasion, I certainly understand why these conversations need to take place before the pressures of acute circumstances come into play. This new regulatory effort at least puts the conversation where it belongs, in routine wellness visits, rather than as a five-year set conversation. It also appears to make this a voluntary conversation (at least for now), one the patient can decline without any repercussions.

I couldn’t agree more but I would argue that there should be reimbursement for it at anytime, anywhere.

Too bad, as bowing to political pressure, the Obama administration soon backed off of the regulation this week.

Lacking a pallative care team there may be no one outside my team, the neurosurgery service, who sees as much end of life issues. Neurotrauma, aneurysmal bleeds, primary central nervous system cancer, bad things. And the choices family have to make in the heat of the moment are gut wrenching and painful and full of angst.

Patients and their physicians need to have conversations with families present concerning end of life issues well before anything happens. The young and the old need to have the conversation. In some ER with a loved one with a massive subdural on Coumadin, with me, is not the place to have the conversation for the first time.

The best way to promote people discussing end of life issues with their physicians is to pay physicians for such discussions. Too bad the political establishment on the right has a problem with that.