Medicare says it will pay doctors to help patients plan what kind of care they want at the end of life — an idea more broadly accepted than six years ago, when it touched off a political uproar about "death panels."

The policy change was urged by numerous medical groups. Some doctors provide this "advance care planning" to their patients without getting paid for the counseling time, and some private insurers already reimburse for it.

But the Obama administration's policy change could make the talks more common among about 55 million Medicare beneficiaries.

The rule, proposed last summer, takes effect Jan. 1. The counseling is entirely voluntary, and could take place during seniors' annual wellness visit, or during regular office visits.