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Medicare Plans To Pay For Voluntary End-Of-Life Counseling

Medicare says that starting Jan. 1, 2016, it plans to pay doctors to counsel patients about end-of-life care.

Julie Rovner, senior correspondent with Kaiser Health News, tells our Newscast unit that many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, have long recommended the move.

"This is actually pretty much the same provision that created the huge outcry in 2009 when it was added by Republicans to the Affordable Care Act," Julie says. "It would allow doctors to be reimbursed for talking to patients about what they want to do about end-of-life care; not necessarily at their end of life, but before that."

Counseling would be voluntary for the patients.

The announcement comes just weeks after a Supreme Court decision solidified the Affordable Care Act. Julie tells Newscast that decision might have prompted Medicare officials to conclude that "it was safe politically ... to go ahead with this."

The Associated Press adds:

"Supporters say counseling would give patients more control and free families from tortuous decisions. Even so, there are often no simple answers. Patients may want less invasive care if they believe they will soon die, but predicting when death will happen is notoriously inexact. Terminal patients can live for years, potentially complicating a choice of less intensive treatment.

"Interested parties will have 60 days to comment on the new regulation before it is finalized."

U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who repeatedly sponsored bills seeking to improve Medicare's support for end-of-life planning, applauded the decision in a statement:

"Patients and their families should be encouraged to think about how they want to be treated at the end of their life and to express their goals, values, and preferences to their physicians. I encourage them, as well as providers and advocates, to support this proposed benefit.

"I'm confident the Obama Administration will consider all of the available social and medical evidence in favor of advance care planning to finalize this decision in the coming months."

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