James M. Berklan

I found it stunning when I recently read that more than a half million people had taken advantage of new Medicare coverage that pays for end-of-life discussions with their doctors.

And there was hardly a peep about it.

What a contrast to the hysteria of 2009, when hack politicians and talk-show hosts with too much air time on their hands warned against these talks. It wasn’t the first, or even most egregious, instance of political grenade-tossing in history.

But it paved the way for a more irresponsible era, where rolling political smoke bombs regularly into the tent to get a rise out of the public — by all kinds of public figures — has become expected programming. 

So the calmness that met the recent end-of-life planning statistics was nothing short of a marvel.

This is because the end-of-life planning coverage was infamously torqued into the term “death panels” less than a decade ago by opportunistic rabble-rousers. 

Nearly twice as many people as predicted consulted with their physicians about end-of-life care in 2016, according to federal statistics. That’s the first year that Medicare reimbursed for such consultations.

The number is expected to rise by leaps and bounds, as well it should. Long-term care providers and other experts frequently extol the virtue of advance directives and care planning, and that’s what this coverage is about: making informed decisions.

According to statistics, more than 22,000 healthcare practitioners took part in the Medicare-sponsored program in 2016. That number is likely depressed because many physicians — and individuals — don’t realize the option, a provision of the Affordable Care Act, was approved in 2015. Advocates are acting to spread the word.

Less than 1% of Medicare beneficiaries took advantage of the benefit in 2016. In an age where hospice use is on the rise, it seems logical that more people would be interested in holding informed discussions about their healthcare near the end of life. Goodness knows we all like to talk about our health when we still think we have plenty of years left to kick around.

Often glossed over in the debate about this coverage is that the benefit is voluntary. In addition, a person’s choices would be carried out by a legal document guided by the beneficiary’s own wishes.

In other words, person-centered care in its purest form.