Dealing with health care needs at the end of life is a difficult but unavoidable issue in an aging society with rising health care costs like ours. After a failed attempt to deal with the issue as part of the Affordable Care Act, it may again be returning to the policy agenda. Can we avoid another catastrophic bout of misinformation?
The debate over end-of-life planning has largely been dormant since 2009, when the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s false claim that President Obama’s health care plan included a “death panel” spelled the end of a proposal for Medicare to reimburse doctors for voluntary end-of-life consultations with patients. The Obama administration briefly issued and then withdrew a regulation that would have added end-of-life consultation coverage to Medicare in early 2011, but is likely to revisit the issue after receiving a recommendation from an influential American Medical Association panel.
Unfortunately, the lesson from the “death panel” controversy is that this issue is vulnerable to demagoguery if it becomes linked to people’s partisanship or feelings about controversial political figures and issues.