KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

The President And White House Officials Try To Debunk End-Of-Life Care Rumors

The Hill: "Democrats seem to have a new strategy for fighting the 'death panel' charges about healthcare reform legislation. They're telling their personal stories. In doing so, they're following the example of President Barack Obama, who got personal Saturday. ... Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.) followed on Sunday, as they both used family stories to illustrate the need for government-funded meetings with doctors when navigating the terminal illness of a loved one" (Rushing, 8/16).

Wall Street Journal: "In a rare emotional display, Mr. Obama personalized the debate by -- some commentators said for the first time --referencing his own grandmother. 'I know what it's like to watch somebody you love who's aging deteriorate, and struggle with that,' he said, his voice rising. 'Pulling the plug on grandma? When you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest'" (Williamson, 8/17).

The New York Times reports: "As President Obama wages his public relations offensive to sell Americans on the need for overhauling health care, he is using a familiar tactic: trying to make the political personal by putting a human face on a complicated and sometimes abstract debate" (Stolberg, 8/15).

ABC News reports: "President Obama used his weekly address to supplement the town hall meetings he's held this week across the country, confronting, what he says, is scary-sounding confusion expressed by some in town halls across the country where 'tempers have flared.' Obama pinpointed the debate over the end-of-life provisions in one version of Congress' health care legislation. ... It 'began with the distortion of one idea in a Congressional bill that would allow Medicare to cover voluntary visits with your doctor to discuss your end-of-life care – if and only if you decide to have those visits,' the President says. 'It had nothing to do with putting government in control of your decisions; in fact, it would give you all the information you need – if you want it – to put you in control of your decisions'" (Tobianski and Miller, 8/15). 

ABC News also reported on Sebelius' appearance on This Week With George Stephanopoulos: "In regards to recent claims made by Palin and other conservatives, Sebelius said it's 'horrific' twisting of facts to say that 'death panels' would be part of Obama's proposed health care overhaul. ... Sebelius noted that the end-of-life provision would 'probably be off the table' in final health care reform legislation" (Klingebiel, 8/16).

The Salt Lake Tribune: "Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch refused to directly weigh in on the issue during his Sunday appearance on ABC's 'This Week.' 'You know, there are many different people who have many different opinions on what is meant by these programs,' he said. Hatch did seem to indicate there was some legitimate concerns about end-of-life care provisions in the bill, saying that Democratic plans would result in rationing. 'Guess who they are going to have to ration. It is going to be senior citizens, and senior citizens are naturally concerned about that, so am I,' he said. 'I think that is where these kind of things come about'" (Canham, 8/16).

Meanwhile, Time reports on end-of-life care consultations: "In fact, geriatricians - doctors trained specifically to care for the elderly - support the provision, arguing that it will encourage patients to express their own preferences rather than leave doctors and family members to guess what they want once they're no longer able to say so themselves. There are only about 7,500 geriatricians in the U.S., and one of them is Dr. Laurie Jacobs, vice chairman of the Department of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Jacobs, who has been a practicing geriatrician since 1988, talked to TIME about why end-of-life counseling is important, when it should start and how to talk to patients and families about planning for death" (Pickert, 8/17).

The Columbus Dispatch reports on hospice and the costs of end-of-life care: "As debate over health-care reform intensifies, the cost of end-of-life care, including hospice, has become a focal point. Studies have found that 80 percent of health-care costs are spent on the last 20 percent of our lives" (Hoholik, 8/17).

Related KHN story: Doctors Providing End-of-Life Counseling See Benefit In Current Controversy

This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.