The Obama administration has reversed a rule that would have included end-of-life counseling in annual Medicare checkups under the new Affordable Health Care law.
According to the New York Times, the change came just days after the new policy took effect on Jan. 1.
Under the health care reform legislation passed by Congress last year, the government would pay doctors who advised patients on options for end-of-life care. Many doctors and hospice operators supported the policy.
But a White House official who spoke under condition of anonymity told the Associated Press that the administration still supports end-of-life planning, but decided to pull the language from the regulation because there wasn't enough chance for all sides to comment on the change.
“We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule so more people could have commented on it specifically,” the official told the AP. “We will amend the regulation to take out voluntary advance care planning [and] this should not affect beneficiaries’ ability to have these voluntary conversations with their doctors.”
Last year, when the proposal surfaced in the massive health reform bill, the notion of end-of-life planning evolved into a political firestorm over what some opponents of the bill labeled “death panels,” believing the government would have a say in when an individual’s life should end.
At the time, Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a longtime advocate for end-of-life care, said that the use of procedures not wanted by those facing a terminal illness equated to a form of assault on that person.
“In economic terms, it is waste,” Berwick said. “Several techniques, including advance directives and involvement of patients and families in decision-making, have been shown to reduce inappropriate care at the end of life, leading to both lower cost and more humane care.”
But the uproar gave Republicans a foothold of popular support against the health care reform act. As a result, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said last November that the end-of-life planning option could eventually be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders sought “to use this small provision to perpetuate the ‘death panel’ myth.”