Warner bill would cover end-of-life care planning

By Bill Bartel, The Virginian-Pilot – 6/11/2015

Spurred by his experience with his mother, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner is again pitching legislation for Medicare to cover the cost of voluntary end-of-life care planning.

The Virginia Democrat and Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, filed a bill Wednesday that would create a new Medicare benefit: reimbursement for medical professionals who participate with a patient, family members, clergy or others to develop a written care plan that reflects a patient’s wishes for the end of life.

Warner has long pressed for the benefit, often citing his family’s experience with his mother, Marjorie, who died at 2010 after suffering for a decade with Alzheimer’s. Relatively soon after her diagnosis, his mother was no longer able to communicate her wishes. Warner still wrestles with regret over her long illness because he, his sister and father hadn’t engaged his mother in what he called “the conversation” to determine what kind of long-term care she wanted.

Such difficult but frank discussions that involve detailed advice from doctors and assisted living consultants can help families be more confident in the decisions they may have to make as a patient’s condition deteriorates, he said.

“Everybody has got a personal story,” Warner said in a recent interview. “My story is my mom. For 11 years, she had Alzheimer’s, and nine of those years, she couldn’t speak.”

The senators’ bill, similar to a measure they introduced in a previous congressional session, includes a public information campaign to encourage long-term care planning. It specifically prohibits using federal money to plan for assisted suicides.

End-of-life care planning was mentioned during discussions about the Affordable Care Act, attracting criticism from some Republicans who falsely referred to them as “death panels.”

Warner reiterated his disdain for those critics.

“In the last several years, some have deliberately chosen to misrepresent the purpose of care-planning services to frighten people and to score cheap political points,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “It’s about making sure that your doctors, your hospital, and your family know what choices you have made about your care. If a patient prefers to explore every possible treatment option, that choice will be respected. And if an individual prefers a different approach… those choices should be documented and honored, too.”

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