Poll: Doctors support policy once derided as ‘death panels’

Doctors overwhelmingly support the type of end-of-life care that sparked charges of “death panels” in the healthcare reform bill, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by the Regence Foundation on behalf of National Journal, found that 96 percent of doctors believe it’s more important to improve dying patients’ quality of life than to prolong their lives as long as possible. The poll measured doctors’ attitudes toward palliative care, which comprises services designed to reduce pain and suffering rather than try to cure a particular condition.

Palliative care was the policy that first stirred up the infamous “death panels” attack during the healthcare debate of 2009. Democrats wanted Medicare to reimburse doctors for voluntary counseling about patients’ options for end-of-life care. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) cited that proposal to argue that the government might kill her child.

But doctors — and the public — support broader access to palliative care, the National Journal poll found. Ninety-five percent said private insurance plans should cover palliative care, and 94 percent said Medicare should cover the services. Asked about the barriers to better palliative care, 82 percent cited reimbursement.

Seventy-nine percent of the doctors surveyed said the U.S. “spends far too much trying to extend lives,” compared with just 37 percent of the general public. But the public agreed with doctors that quality of life is more important than extending life as long as possible, by almost the same margin.

An earlier poll found that 71 percent of the public also prioritized quality of life.