Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hospice Community Disappointed in Administration’s Decision and Reminds All Americans of the Value of Advance Care Planning

(Alexandria, Va) – “We are surprised that the Administration has decided to reverse the decision to include voluntary advance care planning consultations as part of a Medicare beneficiaries’ annual wellness exam,” remarked J. Donald Schumacher, president and CEO of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Despite this action, NHPCO strongly encourages all Americans to think about their wishes for care at the end of life and engage in advance care planning. This includes having discussions with healthcare providers and family members, completing an advance directive (which includes a living will and healthcare proxy), and making sure their loved ones understand their wishes.

“Frankly, we are somewhat disappointed that the regulatory guideline making this part of the annual Medicare exam and compensating the physician for taking time to talk about personal preferences has become such a political issue,” continued Schumacher. “It's simply about educating patients about the types of decisions they might need to consider in future healthcare situations, and then supporting them as they make their own choices based on their values, beliefs and preferences.”

The opportunity for this voluntary consultation with a physician has been part of the “welcome to Medicare” exam since 2008.

Research has shown that patients who discuss their care options when facing a serious or life-limiting illness report a higher quality of life, less hospitalizations and fewer visits to the emergency department. Family caregivers have also been shown to benefit from discussions held between physicians and patients.

Far too often, patients and their families are forced to make decisions in times of crisis; these voluntary advance care planning consultations would have facilitated informed conversations prior to the onset of an illness or medical crisis.

“Death and dying can be a difficult topic for people to deal with – this includes politicians crafting legislation, healthcare providers caring for patients, and people who may be confronting a serious illness. But as hard as this can be, it’s far more difficult for a patient and family to face a medical crisis without a prior understanding of an individual’s wishes and how quality of life might be addressed. Knowing a loved one has engaged in discussions with a knowledgeable physician can bring comfort to patients and families—and that can be quite a gift at a challenging time,” Schumacher said. “Having this option spelled out in Medicare regulations would have raised awareness of advance care planning and potentially opened the door for valuable conversations.”

NHPCO emphasizes that advance care planning is not about discontinuing treatment, saving money, or having someone else make decisions for you; it’s about making sure your wishes are known and then honored, regardless of whether you choose every medical intervention available, discontinue non-productive treatments, or something in between.

There is concern among hospice providers that the debate about this regulation and last year’s “death panel” rumors will cause additional confusion to members of the public and make them even more suspicious of advance care planning.

Hospice and palliative care providers are skilled in helping people understand issues of importance when facing a serious or life-limiting illness and can be important resources for those looking to learn more or make their wishes known.

NHPCO’s Caring Connections offers information on care at the end of life and provides free, state-specific living will and healthcare proxy forms: Visit or call the HelpLine at 1-800-658-8898.

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