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Medicare’s Advance Care Planning Exceeds Expectations

By Ben Shega

Medicare has been focusing more on patient-centered care. Last year, this program which provides healthcare for some 55 million Americans took a positive step in the patient-centered direction: it created a new benefit that let people talk with their doctors about planning for the end of life. The response from the public has been strong. From January to June 2016, 223,000 patients with help from 14,000 providers utilized the advance care planning benefit. The total number of participants is now expected to exceed the American Medical Association’s estimate of 300,000. More complete numbers will be coming from CMS by July 2017.

The success of this benefit was not a foregone conclusion. According to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2015, only 17 percent of Medicare patients had discussed end-of-life treatment options with their physicians, even though 89 percent of the American public said that doctors should have such discussions with their patients. Furthermore, 81 percent supported requiring Medicare to cover counseling on end-of-life care.

Now, doctors as well as patients seem ready to participate in advance care planning counseling. 75 percent of physicians polled in April 2016 said that, because they would be reimbursed by Medicare, they would be more likely to conduct end-of-life care discussions with their patients.

One way for people take advantage of the new Medicare benefit is to visit Compassion & Choices Truth in Treatment Campaign website. This is a new initiative aimed at putting patients in the driver’s seat of their own care. At www.TruthInTreatment.org, people can find a Trust Card to fill in and share with their doctor to start the conversation. More tools are coming soon, all designed to give people facing advanced or terminal illness more control over how they live out the rest of their days.