LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
In all the jockeying over the health care overhaul, lots of people are saying lots of things and many of them are not exactly true. But one false claim in particular seems to have special staying power. NPR's Julie Rovner looks at why so many seniors are worried that the government will intervene in their end of life decisions.
JULIE ROVNER: This particular claim appears to have started with conservative commentator Betsy McCaughey. Health care experts remember her best for a questionable analysis she wrote 15 years ago about then-President Clinton's health care plan. Here's McCoy on the current health bill moving through the house on a recent talk radio show.
Ms. BETSY MCCAUGHEY (Commentator): One of the most shocking things I found in this bill, and there were many, is on Page 425, where the Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner; how to decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go into hospice care.
ROVNER: McCaughey's take was quickly picked up by Republicans on Capitol Hill, including North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx. Foxx said a health care plan introduced by Republicans is better.
Representative VIRGINIA FOXX (Republican, North Carolina): And it's pro life, because it will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.
ROVNER: There's only one problem: the Democrats' bill would do nothing of the sort. It simply allows, not requires, seniors to be counseled about options for end of life care. Kathy Brandt is a vice president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.
Ms. KATHY BRANDT (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization): Nothing in the health care reform language says anything about terminating life, hastening death, assisted suicide, none of that. All it is is about documenting wishes, whatever those wishes are.
ROVNER: Brandt says the bill would simply, for the first time, pay health care providers to have the conversation with Medicare patients about what kind of care they would want if they were to become unable to communicate their wishes.
Ms. BRANDT: If you want everything to be possibly done - all medical treatment to be done for you until your last breath - or you can choose not to have everything or somewhere in between. I think most people who are healthy adults would want treatment, and nothing that's in any health care reform bills that I've heard or seen does anything that would prohibit that.
ROVNER: So why are so many people, to put it bluntly, freaking out over this issue? Harvard public opinion expert Robert Blendon says it's because seniors are very, very sensitive when it comes to health care.
Professor ROBERT BLENDON (Harvard School of Public Health): Seniors worry more about their health care than any other group in American life. They feel more vulnerable. And if they think that this bill is about restricting things -taking decisions, taking age limits - they're really going to be very active opponents of this.
ROVNER: In fact, says Blendon, one place lawmakers have really stumbled in selling the proposal is in saying that they would pay for it by cutting Medicare spending but not explaining that the bill also includes some new benefits for seniors.
Prof. BLENDON: And so I think the discussions about how money would be saved for Medicare has really alarmed them. And so the really important information is: how would it be different for a senior if this bill was passed?
ROVNER: Giving backers of the proposal one more group to convince during the August recess.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.
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