Published on NJ.com
Roughly 3 in 10 Americans still believe that the Affordable Care Act established Death Panels, or a junta of bureaucratic savages that determines whether sick people get to live.
That was from the dizzy imagination of Sarah Palin, and after she squawked enough to get end-of-life planning scrubbed from the legislation – by claiming the ACA led to subjective judgments about health-care worthiness for the sick – it was called the “Lie of the Year” by PolitiFact in 2009.
Still, some dense disciples (and 45 percent of Republicans) believe that death panels have Grandma in their cross-hairs. And many are stunned to learn that Medicare started paying for end-of-life planning in January, with doctors receiving a modest fee to discuss advanced directives.
This provision sailed through Congress last summer, and there are signs that end-of-life conversations are starting to pick up nationally.
The problem is that New Jerseyans are still ignorant about end-of-life care. A Rutgers-Eagleton poll conducted with the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute found that 62 percent have discussed their wishes with a loved one or doctor, but only 30 have written a living will.
Starting in 2016, Medicare plans to reimburse physicians who have end-of-life consultations with patients.
Such planning helps avoid unnecessary (and possibly harmful) treatments, which prolong life with aggressive interventions, and it could run contrary to a patient’s wish.
That continues to be the trend in New Jersey, where the sick have more tests, visit more doctors, and endure more procedures than any other state. Yet they do not live any longer, and they are more likely to die in a care facility.
“Most of us are just unaware of what opportunities are available,” says Linda Schwimmer of NJHCQI.
Indeed, only 45 percent know of options such as palliative care, and only 27 percent are familiar with their legal power in controlling life-sustaining treatment. These need to change, as the reality of life trumps pernicious political fiction.