Medicare now pays for end-of-life consultations: 7 things to know

A higher-than-expected number of Medicare beneficiaries have already participated in end-of-life consultations now funded by the federal program, reports Kaiser Health News.

Here are seven things to know.

1. End-of-life consultations give Medicare beneficiaries and, often, their family members an opportunity to discuss treatment preferences and other issues related to advance care planning with providers.

2. Healthcare providers were first able to bill for the end-of-life consultations last year.

3. That year, 574,621 Medicare beneficiaries participated in end-of-life consultations and nearly 23,000 providers submitted approximately $93 million in charges, according to the report, which cites new federal data. More than $43 million were covered by Medicare.

4. The number of actual participants is greater than the American Medical Association's estimation of 300,000, although "only a fraction of eligible Medicare providers — and patients — have used the benefit," according to the report. KHN specifically cites calculations by health policy analysts at Durham, N.C.-based Duke University, which show approximately 1 percent of the nation's Medicare beneficiaries enrolled at the end of last year participated in end-of-life consultations.

5. Degree of participation varied by state. In Alaska, 175 Medicare beneficiaries participated in consultations, or 0.2 percent. That is compared to Hawaii, where approximately 2.5 percent of the state's Medicare recipients participated.

6. In the report, this is partly attributed to the fact providers' awareness of implementation of the Medicare reimbursement agreement varies across the country.

7. While there are proponents of the end-of-life consultations, including Tallahassee, Fla.-based Aging with Dignity, they have in the past been referred to by opponents as "death panels," reports KHN. The publication states U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, last January introduced legislation that would halt Medicare reimbursement for such consultations.

Read the full report here.


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