The federal government announced Friday that doctors now can be reimbursed for end-of-life conversations.
Families tend to shy away from discussing whether a terminally ill loved one wants feeding tubes, ventilation machines or invasive operations to keep them alive as long as possible.
End-of-life care hasn't been easy for doctors to bring up either. They've had to squeeze the conversations into regular appointments because they aren’t allowed to bill for them.
The reimbursement change gives the conversation the dignity it deserves and allows patients to fill in a form stating their wishes, said Dr. Susan Tolle of the Center for Ethics at Oregon Health And Science University.
“You can say, 'I want everything done,' which would happen if you didn’t fill out the form," said Tolle. "You can say, 'I want some treatment and not others.' You can say, 'I prefer that my care be focused on my comfort and I prefer to stay at home and be with my family.'”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin managed to stop such billing in the Affordable Care Act by invoking the idea of "death panels" of bureaucrats who would decide whether an individual was worthy of care. But that characterization has been roundly rejected.