Medicare Beneficiaries Discuss Options for Care at the End of Life with Their Health Care Providers

Medicare beneficiaries may now discuss options for end-of-life care with their health care providers. Beneficiaries of course were already free to talk about advance care planning with their doctors or other qualified health professionals. However, practitioners were only reimbursed for such discussions during a patient’s “Welcome to Medicare” visit, a time when the topic may not seem very relevant. As of January 1, 2016, Medicare will pay physicians for speaking at any time with Medicare beneficiaries and their families about different options for care and treatment at the end of life.


These voluntary conversations will help enable patients to end their lives on their own terms. Patients are often unable to express themselves when a crisis is at hand. At this point, a decision needs to be made about how much or little care they would like to have when facing a terminal illness. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one-quarter of Medicare’s budget is spent on patients in their last year of life. For many patients, life-prolonging medical procedures are unwanted and unwelcome. A 2011 study found that when medical personnel know what kind of care a patient wants at the end of life, Medicare can be spared a significant amount of money. The patient is more likely to die at home rather than in a hospital.


Now that discussions about advance care planning are a regular Medicare benefit, seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries will be able to learn about health care options that are available for end-of-life care. Patients can make better decisions after they are educated about advance directives, palliative care and hospice care. They can then determine which types of care they would like to have and share their wishes with their practitioners and family. After sufficient conversations with their doctors and other health professionals, the beneficiaries may be ready to execute legal documents, such as advance directives or “POLST” forms, and name a health care proxy to ensure that their wishes will be carried out. Studies have found that 40 percent of people over age 65 have not written down their wishes for end-of-life treatment.


An early version of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) would have allowed Medicare to pay for these patient discussions, but former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and other opponents of health reform characterized them as government “death panels,” and the provision never made it into the final health care legislation. The Obama administration tried again in 2011, enacting a Medicare regulation that would have reimbursed doctors for discussing end-of-life planning with patients during their annual checkups. Then, this action quickly reversed course and withdrew the regulation, apparently fearing that it would revive the specter of “death panels” at a time when the health reform law was under fierce attack from Republicans.


Under the new regulations, the advance care planning discussions can take place during the annual wellness visit or at a separate appointment. They are a reimbursable benefit under Medicare Part B and there will be a copayment if the conversation is not part of the annual wellness visit.
Be proactive and talk to your elder law attorney about preparing legal documents that ensure you receive the end-of-life medical treatment that you desire.


About The Author

Named One of the Main Line’s Top Elder Law Attorneys
by Main Line Today
Robert M. Slutsky has practiced Elder Law since 1992 and was one of the area’s first elder law attorneys. Rob Slutsky advises clients on Medicaid and Asset Protection Planning, Guardianships, Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Estate Administration, Special Needs Planning and General Estate Planning. He has represented for profit and non-profit elder care providers and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. Rob Slutsky has been the solicitor for the Montgomery County Office of Aging and Adult Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Montgomery County, for more than 15 years.