End-of-life counseling deserves close monitoring

Millions of older people who rely on Medicare will find the health care program is different this year. Several changes have been made to reduce costs and allegedly improve quality.

One new facet of the program is that Medicare will pay for “end-of-life” counseling for patients. Their options for health care in their final months and, perhaps, years will be explained, federal officials say.

What, you say? Isn’t that the old idea President Barack Obama proposed years ago but dropped from the Affordable Care Act after public outcries?

Indeed it is. End-of-life counseling could lead to “death panels,” with some older Americans encouraged to forego medical care and thus, shorten their lives, critics of the Obama proposal charged. Because the most expensive treatment can be in the final months of life, that would save the government an enormous amount of money.

After all that was pointed out, Obama dropped end-of-life counseling from the Obamacare bill, quite likely because he knew Congress would take it out if he did not.

But Obama is not one to take “no” for an answer. So he bided his time until now and – no surprise – got the counseling measure included in new Medicare rules. His stealth approach ensured there would be little or no controversy until the idea was a done deal.

Many people probably desire some form of counseling near the ends of their lives – from people they trust to have their best interests at heart rather than a primary allegiance to saving the government money.

Medicare’s end-of-life counseling program is voluntary, but it still should be monitored closely. At the first indication it is encouraging people to, in effect, go ahead and die so they are not a burden on Medicare, Congress should pull the plug on it.