Starting in January, Medicare will reimburse doctors and other health professionals for consulting with their patients about the types of treatments they would like to receive during their final days, the Associated Press reports. The news comes six years after Sarah Palin first claimed (falsely) that health care reform would result in "death panels" — an idea that contributed to lawmakers' decision to drop the measure from the Affordable Care Act.
About 55 million people in the US benefit from Medicare
About 55 million people in the US benefit from Medicare. Prior to this measure, physicians could only be paid by Medicare for an end-of-life care consultation if that consultation took place during an annual visit. But the new policy changes that by creating a new Medicare benefit that will include payment to doctors. And of course, going through this type of counseling will be entirely voluntary.
As the US population grows older, some states have passed laws that make it easier to include end-of-life decisions in medical records, according to Politico. And some state Medicaid programs already cover these types of discussions. But Palin's 2009 suggestion that end-of-life discussions were comparable to setting up "death panels" is widely thought to have derailed this measure when it was introduced under the Affordable Care Act.
Medicare tends to set the tone for private insurers, so it's possible that some companies will follow suit and start covering these discussions as well. That said, the measure will probably spark another "death panel" debate. There's some precedent for it, after all. In 2010, after the measure was dropped from the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration tried to introduce a similar policy. But that measure was met with outrage — largely from the right —causing the administration to backpedal and reverse the regulation.