The White House has reversed course on a Medicare rule that would have paid for end-of-life counseling during annual physical examinations under the new health care law. The change comes just days after the provision took effect. So what does this mean for you?
Q: I thought end-of-life planning was dropped last year and wasn't included in the health care law?
A: It wasn't. But officials say that was a mistake so the rule was re-entered in November during the period when Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services set the payment rates for doctors who accept Medicare.
Q: Why was it dropped again?
A: The simple answer: Politics. According to The New York Times: "The renewed debate over advance care planning threatened to become a distraction to administration officials who were gearing up to defend the health law."
Q: Wait. I don't understand what the rule was.
A: Physicians who accept Medicare are given a list of services they can offer patients during a regular physical. This year, "advance care planning" was added to the list. So in addition to talking about your heart, weight, diet and getting your annual blood tests, your doctor could have also set aside time during your visit to talk about palliative care — if you wanted to. And Medicare would have paid your doctor for this extra time.
Q: Why all the controversy? What's the big deal?
A: Any discussion about end-of-life care is a hot topic. While some health care providers say the rule helps patients make better decisions about their care, other groups warn that any such government-backed policy is dangerous — going so far as to label them "death panels."
Q: So now that the rule has reversed, can I still talk to my doctor about end-of-life care?
A: Yes, you can. There is no government policy that forbids you from having the conversation.
Q: I just want to know one thing: Does the change affect my Medicare premium and coverage?
Q: I'm still confused. What else am I missing?
A: Find out all you need to know about what the health care law means for you.
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