Commentary: A Republican about face on end-of-life counseling

"Death panel" fear-mongers are too late.

The much-maligned end-of-life counseling to encourage advance directives has been paid for by Medicare since 2005. People aged 65 are entitled to a "Welcome to Medicare" exam that includes a physical and mental assessment, counseling on how Medicare works and what it covers, tips on how to prevent falls at home and the now-controversial counseling. The government would pay for this up to one year after Medicare enrollment.

The end-of-life discussion, previously optional, became mandatory Jan. 1. Among the mandate's biggest champions were Republicans who now disavow their involvement.

The proposed healthcare overhaul legislation would pay for the end-of-life discussion between physician and patient every five years. This is milder than legislation sponsored by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., that would have required Medicare patients to have a living will.

What was once a nonpartisan issue is now anything but.

The death-panel rhetoric has it all wrong: government isn't making end-of-life decisions, it's facilitating discussion between physician and patient.

There's danger that this misguided debate will give advance directives a wholly undeserved bad name.

Texas has been a leader on this issue. In 1999, then-Gov. George W. Bush signed landmark legislation providing a framework for resolving disagreements about treatment when caregivers consider it medically futile but patients or their families do not want to give up hope. At the time, the law was considered the best in the nation and a model for other states.

To read the complete editorial, visit The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.