Medicare Regulation Revives End-of-Life Planning As Part of Obamacare

December 27, 2010 - 10:03 AM

autographed health care bill

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, rests her arm on an autographed copy of the Democrats’ health care bill after it passed the House on Sunday, March 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington (AP) - A new health regulation issued this month offers Medicare recipients voluntary end-of-life planning, which Democrats dropped -- under pressure -- from their health care overhaul last year.

The provision allows Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling to help beneficiaries deal with the complex and painful decisions families face when a loved one is approaching death.

But the practice was heavily criticized by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and some other Republicans who have likened the counseling to "death panels."

The "voluntary advance care planning" is included in a Medicare regulation issued Dec. 3 that covers annual checkups, known as wellness visits. It goes into effect Jan. 1.

The new regulation was first reported by The New York Times.

For years, federal laws and policies have encouraged Americans to think ahead about end-of-life decisions and make their wishes known in advance through living wills and similar legal documents. But when House Democrats proposed last year to pay doctors for end-of-life counseling, it touched off a wave of suspicion and anger.

Opponents said end-of-life planning should be left to families, while proponents said doctors' advice was a basic element of health care.

Prominent Republicans singled it out as a glaring example of government overreach. Palin's use of the phrase "death panels" solidified GOP opposition to the health care bill.

Although advance planning never made it into the law, few Republicans joined in supporting the health care overhaul, President Barack Obama's signature domestic legislative achievement.