Health Care 'Death Panels' a Myth

The accusations are shocking, inflammatory and often incorrect.

Shouts of "This is euthanasia!" and questions from angry citizens such as, "Adolph Hitler called his program the Final Solution. What will we call ours?" have taken center stage at health care town halls all across the nation.

"Right now it seems there is an intentional effort to distort what's in the legislation and that's confusing the public debate," AARP executive vice president of policy John Rother said.

At issue is a 10-page section of a 1,000-page House health care reform bill on "advanced care planning consultations."

VIDEO: Fact-Checking Health Care Reform
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These consultations would reimburse a doctor for talking with a patient once every five years about what kind of care they want near the end of life.

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, called this "downright evil," and asserted the elderly would have to stand in front of a "death panel so [President Obama's] bureaucrats can decide ... whether they are worthy of health care."

So what are the facts?

The provision would create no such panel. It calls only for a "consultation between the individual and a practitioner."

Then how did this misinformation start?

It seems that it started with some remarks by former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey on "The Fred Thompson Show" radio program July 16.

"This is a vicious assault on elderly people, all to do what's in society's best interest, or your family's best, and cut your life short," she said.

Her comments had spread online and seniors started asking pointed questions.

At a health care town hall with Obama hosted by the AARP, a man said, "This is being read as saying, 'every five years, you'll be told how you can die.'"

"Well, that would be kind of morbid," the president responded.

In fact, the intent of the measure is not for doctors to tell patients what to do, but to give doctors more incentives to talk to patients about all of their options.

In La Crosse, Wis., such "end-of-life consultations" are already common because of a program put in place by a local hospital.

As a result of these consultations, LaCrosse resident Ann Kottnaur said she now knows that her mother Margaret, who has Parkinson's disease and dementia, would rather die at home than in a nursing home.

"By the time we completed it, her health had started to fail," Kottnaur said of the end-of-life care consultations.

Physicians Say These Consultations Help Families

"So we knew from a long time ago that that was her wish," Kottnaur said.

If La Crosse is any example, people do often choose limits on care for their final months. And the fact is, that saves money.

In La Crosse, medical spending in the final year of life averages $18,000. The national average is $25,000.

Opponents of the House bill argue that any focus on cost-cutting will push people toward decisions to limit care.

"There should never be any doubt as to whether your end-of-life decisions are influenced by its affect on the United States Treasury," said Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich.

But proponents of this measure -- and there are Republicans among them -- say that's a false argument because these are patient-driven consultations. They would be available to anyone but not mandatory, and patients would dictate what they want done, not the cost of the procedures.

Two dozen physicians were interviewed by ABC News' medical unit, and each said these kinds of consultations help families and they are happening already. This provision, they say, would only make them more widespread.

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