Medicare to pay for end-of-life care counseling

Effective January 1, 2016, Medicare plans to pay doctors to speak to patients about their end-of-life care. The doctors will provide counseling and discuss options that range from care that’s more focused on comfort than extending life to doing whatever is possible to resuscitate a dying patient. Some doctors are already having conversations about this topic with their patients but are not billing for it.

Medicare payment will ensure that more doctors will have these conversations which many feel are critical to high-quality care.

The Institute of Medicine issued a report last year which found that few people make their wishes known so many deaths “are filled with breathing machines, feeding tubes, powerful drugs and other treatments that fail to extend life and make its final chapter more painful and unpleasant.” The report, “Dying in America” is free as a PDF or can be paid for and ordered as a bound volume.

While most people have given thought to how they would like to die, many have found it difficult to communicate those views and choices to family and loved ones and, in many cases, family and loved ones have their own perceptions and views about death that can influence discussions about dying.  Most people envision their own death as a peaceful and an ideally rapid transition. However, with the exception of accidents or trauma or of a few illnesses that almost invariably result in death weeks or months after diagnosis, death usually comes at the end of a chronic illness or the frailty accompanying old age. Even though death is very much part of the cycle of life, thinking and talking about one’s own death usually remains in the background, at least until its prospect become more probable or imminent.

Thru the new Medicare offering doctors will be able to discuss with their patients how they would like to die, and to encourage them to put their wishes on paper and share those wishes with their family.

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