Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Imagine a Medicare ‘Part Q’ for Quality at the End of Life

Katy Butler writes in the New York Times:
My father, and others like him, suffered because, at the tail end of life, Medicare continues to pay well for fix-it treatments focused unrealistically on cure and underpays for care and desperately needed home support. In his last six years, it paid more than $80,000, all told, for treatments that included a hernia repair, a pacemaker, and $24,000 for the injectable drug Lucentis which, sadly, failed to arrest the macular degeneration that was robbing him of sight. It covered a series of ambulance rides, emergency room visits and a hospital stay after he fell repeatedly on throw rugs and down the stairs, once breaking his wrist, falling on my mother, and leaving her black and blue from toe to hip. 
But it paid very little for home health aides to give my mother respite and cut off, far too soon, the speech and physical therapies that helped maintain his ability to function and take pleasure in life. Under fee-for-service medicine, Medicare paid to patch him up after he fell but not to keep him from falling.               

That’s why I think we need an optional new Medicare benefit. It would be called Part Q, for Quality of Life. Only those who seek it out could sign up. Democrats should love it for expanding services. Republicans should love it for expanding freedom of choice without raising costs. Those who don’t like it can leave it alone. But I’d join as soon as I turned 80 — and earlier if I developed chronic health problems.
Once I signed up, a coordinated Part Q primary care team — a concierge medical service for the 99 percent — would take responsibility for all my medical care until my death. Over time, it would help me make the transition smoothly from useful curative approaches to those focused on sustaining my quality of daily life, to “comfort care only” and, I hope, a gentle death at home. 

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