KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Despite Officials’ Efforts To Clear Air, Fears About End-Of-Life Care Remain

Rumors and controversy continue to swirl around end-of-life issues and health care reform as President Barack Obama and others try to calm fears.

CBS: "At protests and town hall meetings around the country accusations are flying about so-called "end-of-life care" for seniors on Medicare, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson." The controversy surrounds a section of the House bill: "Section 1233 primarily offers Medicare patients 'Advance Care Planning Consultation' every five years - sooner if they take a turn for the worse. Counselors would be trained by the government 'about the goals and use of orders for life sustaining treatment,' which are not specified in the bill. Despite rumors, counseling would be voluntary, not forced. But health care professionals would be paid to provide it."

CBS notes: "Some worry susceptible seniors would be steered into ending their life to save money. One House committee addressed those fears by adding an amendment: It says the government will not pay organizations that 'promote suicide, assisted suicide, or the act of hastening death'" (Attkisson, 8/11).

ABC News reports that experts try to debunk rumors around a "death panel" rule: "The provisions spurred conservatives, including former New York Lt. Governor Betsy McCaughey, a Republican and now a conservative commentator, to charge that these consultations would ration health care for elderly and 'tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner, how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go into hospice care.' ... In fact, doctors and supporters say, 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" (Snow, Gever and Childs, 8/11).

The Associated Press reports: "Obama is seeking to put to rest claims that the health care overhaul he seeks would set up "death panels" to rule on life-sustaining care for ailing seniors. It would not, and Obama stressed the point during a town hall meeting Tuesday in Portsmouth, N.H." (8/11).

Time profiles Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel amid the end-of-life controversy: "Emanuel, the medical ethicist and oncologist who advises President Obama, does not own a television, and if you catch him in a typically energized moment, when his mind speeds even faster than his mouth, he is likely to blurt out something like, 'I hate the Internet.' So it took him several days in late July to discover he had been singled out by opponents of health-care reform as a 'deadly doctor,' who, according to an opinion column in the New York Post, wanted to limit medical care for 'a grandmother with Parkinson's or a child with cerebral palsy'"

"For decades, Emanuel has studied the ethics of medical care, especially in situations where a scarcity of resources requires hard decisions to be made. His work sometimes deals with the hardest possible decisions, like how to choose who gets a single kidney if there are three patients in need, or the reasons why doctors order tests with little medical value. ... But in a country where trust is in short supply, Emanuel has become a proxy for all the worst fears of government efforts to rein in costs by denying care" (Scherer, 8/12).

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