Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling

Medicare doctors soon will start getting paid for end-of-life counseling, under a final rule the Obama administration issued late last week.

Beginning in January, doctors can get reimbursed for advising terminally ill patients on what types of interventions they may want to accept or reject. Under the rule, Medicare will pay $86 for the first 30 minutes of "advance care planning" if it takes place in a doctor's office and slightly less if it takes place in a hospital.

Paying for end-of-life counseling was once a highly controversial topic, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin getting widespread attention for her allegation that including it in the 2010 healthcare law would lead to "death panels."

But when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in July it was considering the matter, and then issued a final rule on Friday, there were virtually no objections from Republicans, reflecting a major shift in views of end-of-life counseling. Health policy experts have long noted that such counseling can help reduce unnecessary medical costs that quickly mount up at the end of many patients' lives.