End-of-life talk stirred outcry

by
January 7, 2011

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar-Associated Press

Reversing a politically delicate decision, the Obama administration will drop references to so-called “end-of-life” counseling from the ground rules for Medicare‘s new annual checkup, the White House said Wednesday.

The latest shift on the sensitive subject comes ahead of a vote next week in the new GOP-led House to repeal President Obama‘s landmark health care overhaul.

The decision is not likely to have much impact on patients and doctors already discussing options for care in the last stages of life. For example, voluntary end-of-life planning is already covered as part of the “Welcome to Medicare” doctor visit, available to seniors within the first year of joining the program.

The original House version of the overhaul legislation sought to expand coverage, allowing for discussions every few years. But the plan was dropped after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and other Republicans raised the specter of “death panels” deciding the fate of vulnerable seniors. Those charges were later strongly challenged by several nonpartisan fact-checking groups.

End-of-life counseling unexpectedly surfaced again late last year in a Medicare regulation that spelled out what would be covered in a new annual checkup, or wellness visit, authorized by the health care law. Issued without fanfare, the regulation said such voluntary doctor-patient discussions could be part of the annual visit.

The issue remains so politically volatile that a key supporter, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, urged backers not to celebrate publicly when the counseling regulation was first published.

“While we are very happy with the result, we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blumenauer‘s office said in an e-mail in early November, as first reported in the New York Times.

To read more, visit: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/jan/5/proviso-cut-from-medicare-rules/

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