End-of-life care planning regulation to go into effect

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Starting Jan. 1, Medicare will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care. Under this new rule, doctors can offer information to patients on how to prepare an "advance directive," which states how they wish to be medically treated if they become unable to make healthcare decisions for themselves. The discussion may occur during patients' annual exams.  

The regulation nearly replicates a provision that failed to make into the healthcare reform law. Opponents of this type of care planning last year likened the idea to government-sponsored euthanasia. Section 1233 became synonymous with the term "death panels," forcing Congress to withdraw it from the bill. The original provision actually would have allowed Medicare to pay for these consultations once every five years—not yearly, as the regulation now allows.

Dr. Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, issued the regulation. He has long been an advocate for end-of-life care. Congressional supporters of the provision have stayed quiet on the regulation, fearing another backlash, according to a story in The New York Times.