- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Medicare said Friday it will consider paying doctors to counsel patients about their options for end-of-life care, the same idea that spurred accusations of “death panels” and fanned a political furor around President Barack Obama’s health care law five years ago.

The announcement came in a voluminous regulation on physician payment. It will “give the public ample opportunity to weigh in on the topic,” said Medicare spokesman Aaron Albright.

Medicare will consider a change for 2016.

Such counseling would be voluntary, aiming to make patients aware of their options so they can determine the type of care they want at the end of life.

It’s an idea that has wide support in the medical community, and some private insurance plans already pay for such counseling. Supporters say counseling would give patients more control and free families from tortuous decisions.

Before former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin ignited the “death panel” debate in 2009, there was longstanding bipartisan consensus around helping people to better understand their end-of-life choices and decisions.

In 2008, a year before debate over the Obama’s health overhaul spiraled into tea party protests, Congress overwhelmingly passed legislation requiring doctors to discuss issues like living wills with new Medicare enrollees.

That history dissipated almost instantly when Palin said the end-of-life counseling provision in the legislation would result in bureaucrats deciding whether sick people get to live. The language, modeled after a bill by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., was ultimately removed.

Now the administration is dipping its toe in the water again.

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