Advance-Care Planning

The cover story of this coming week’s edition of Modern Healthcare (subscription required) focuses on end-of-life directives. The now infamous death panels phenomenon that became coupled with fears over the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) and rationing of knee and hip replacement procedures for Medicare recipients. I first wrote about this topic in November of 2012.

So here we are going on three years later and to my knowledge there have been no elderly individuals dragged before a panel of subjective arbiters charged with determining whether or not a person shall live or die. Not to diminish the reality of systemic rationing, as I have also written upon here – and that it will increase dramatically as an issue and concern in proportion to the demand for healthcare of an aging society.

But it has and continues to seem certain that admonishing public policy that raises awareness about the challenges of rationing and end-of-life care through increased and improved communication is rather wrongheaded. Fortunately, pragmatism seems to be winning over irrationality, and there are continued efforts to recognize the realities of having to address how scarce healthcare resources are allocated.

CMS announced last week that its proposed 2016 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule would incorporate physician payment for end-of-life conversations with patients. Though Medicare already provides for advance care planning upon enrollment the new rule would create new and separate advance care planning codes. Numerous medical societies and health organizations have pushed for reimbursement of advance-care planning as a separate, stand-alone service.

In good part much of the support was a desire to be paid for work already being performed. But to some extent it also represents an incentive to provide a service. And there’s the rub: what’s being incentivized? Education and awareness – or an inherent bias to abridge care and treatment options in favor of resource conservation that could be manifested in income to the clinical practitioner?

Indeed, it’s a slippery slope, and we need to be vigilant in understanding the impact of frequently dramatic differences between how an end-of-life is planned and what actually takes place at care settings in the hands of clinicians whose primary directive is to preserve life. From a policy perspective there are multiple elements that may yet contribute more to this discussion (e.g., the apparently defunct IPAB and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute).

For now, however, there is a greater opportunity to empower patients with more knowledge and information to assist them in their personal decision making regarding end-of-life care. That’s a good thing.

Cheers,
  ~ Sparky

Image credit: Martin Kozlowski for WSJ

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ChangingAging

with Dr. Bill Thomas

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