Revenge of the ‘death panels’

Like a zombie in a terrible b-movie, just when you think the kids are safe to go back to the cabin, it pops back to life to terrorize once again in an even worse sequel.

And so it is with the recent  return of the phrase “death panel.” A dog whistle term used to discredit health care reform and scare those who would most benefit from thoughtful  doctor-patient end-of-life conversations.

But there it is back in the news as a rhetorical mischaracterization to aid in the repeal the Affordable Care Act. Specifically Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa is behind a bill, the ‘Protecting Life Until Natural Death Act’ that would pull back existing Medicare funding for end-of-life conversations between doctors and patients.

Since Medicare approved the conversations in 2016, data shows that in the six months following, over 223,000 patients from 14,000 health care providers reported having these conversations. That those numbers are higher than many predicted is not a surprise. These conversations are an essential part of end-of-life planning.

In practice the conversations focus on how a patient would like to be treated at the end of their lives. Do they want to be kept alive using all possible technologies, despite the very real possibility that they would only continue to “live” in a technical sense? Or do they want care providers to stop when quality of life drops below a specified threshold?

Not only do these conversations provide patients more control over their lives, they also reduce the amount of unnecessary care and of course, the funds needed to pay for it.

That simple process is what has been called ‘death panels’ by some. It’s  unfortunate that this term has come back into the discussion as so many have found these conversations useful in asserting control over their quality of life to the end of their days.

We help our client’s put in place end-of-life plans via advanced directives. The end-of-life conversations currently covered by Medicare are for those who haven’t put their plans in place.

To put advanced medical directives in place now, please contact us to talk.