Washington D.C., Jan 5, 2011 / 13:34 pm
After enacting a Medicare regulation on Jan. 1 that would reimburse doctors for holding end-of-life planning consults with patients, the Obama administration swiftly reversed the move just three days later, after intense controversy swirled around the issue.
Although critics of the regulation argued that it was a push towards assisted suicide or advising elderly patients to forgo costly life-sustaining treatments, some Catholic experts held that end-of-life planning could instead be viewed as pro-life and consistent with Church teaching.
Uproar over the regulation began when the New York Times reported on Dec. 25 that the Obama administration quietly endorsed a policy that would reimburse doctors who give consultations to patients on end-of-life care as part of an annual wellness examination created by the new healthcare reform law. Though similar language was stripped from the final Senate health care bill which passed last March, the administration worked to achieve the same goal on Jan. 1 through a Medicare regulation. The Times observed that regulation writing could be an effective process for the administration to enact health care policies despite increasing Republican opposition in Congress.
Under the new regulation, Medicare would have covered “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of an annual visit. During the visit, doctors would have provided information to patients on how to prepare an “advance directive” which would detail how aggressively they wish to be treated if they are incapacitated to make their own decisions in the future. The regulation was published in the Federal Register last November and was issued by Dr. Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.