Medicare’s End-of-Life Counseling Policy May Find Acceptance

Six years ago, a proposal for Medicare to cover end-of-life counseling touched off a political uproar that threatened to stall President Barack Obama’s health care law in Congress. Wednesday, when Medicare finally announced it will make the change, reaction was muted.

At the time, former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin’s accusation that voluntary counseling could lead to government-sponsored “death panels” dictating the fate of frail elders was widely discredited. But for the Obama administration, end-of-life counseling remained politically radioactive, even as the idea found broader acceptance in society.

Dr. Joe Rotella, chief medical officer of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, called Medicare’s move a “little miracle,” given the “death panels” furor. He said he believes the controversy has passed.

“I think society’s going to get over it this time and see the good in it,” said Rotella. “It’s really about living in the way that means the most to you to the last moments of your life.”

The original sponsor of the idea, Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer, was taking no chances even as he, too, sensed a political shift. Just a few weeks ago at the White House congressional picnic, Blumenauer said he personally lobbied senior officials, handing out pocket-sized cards with his talking points.