End-of-life counseling stays in health care bill

Here’s a piece of very good news just in from Associated Press reporter Ricardo Alonzo-Zaldivar:

It’s alive. The Medicare end-of-life planning provision that 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin said was tantamount to “death panels” for seniors is staying in the latest Democratic health care bill unveiled Thursday. 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.

The business of thinking ahead toward end-of-life decisions and making¬† one’s own wishes known through legal documents such as advance directives has long been encouraged by federal policies. But when coverage for talking things over with one’s doctor was incorporated into health reform it was quickly distorted by Republicans.¬† Sen.Charles Grassley led the successful campaign to strike it from the Senate bills. But saner heads have prevailed in the House.

“There is nothing more basic than giving someone the option of speaking with their doctor about how they want to be treated in the case of an emergency,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-OR. “I think the outrageous and vindictive attacks may have backfired to help raise awareness about this problem, which is why it’s been kept in the bill.” The legislation would allow Medicare to pay for a counseling session with a doctor or clinical professional once every five years. The bill calls for such sessions to be “completely” voluntary, and prohibits the encouragement or promotion of suicide or assisted suicide.

The counseling provision is supported by doctors’ groups and AARP, the seniors’ lobby. It was not included in health care bills passed by two Senate committees.

It’s alive! End-of-life counseling in health bill.

Straight Talk Q&A on Health Reform

One of the best fact-checks re health reform I’ve seen lately was just sent out by Ricardo Alonso-Zalvidar for the Associated Press:

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.” Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong.

Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes. Here are some questions and answers on the controversy:

Q: Does the health care bill promote “mercy killing,” or euthanasia?

A: No.

Q: Then what’s all the fuss about?

And here’s where it all started:

A: A provision in the House bill written by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.

Alonso-Zaldivar covers all the basics in this brief, to-the-point article. My personal favorite opinion is also in there. It’s a comment made by Monsignor Charles Fahey, 76, a Catholic priest currently chairman of the board of the National Council on Aging:

“What I have said is that if I cannot say another prayer, if I cannot give or get another hug, and if I cannot have another martini – then let me go.”

Maybe we should put that martini provision in the bill.

via Health care overhaul bill Q&A.