Scare Tactics Over "End-of-Life" Bill?

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.

It's spelled out in "Section 1233" of the House Bill.

"What it says is, as a 74-year old man, if you develop cancer, we're pretty much gonna write you off," claimed one woman at a town hall meeting.

"Nobody 74 is going to be written off because they have cancer," said Sen. Arlen Specter. "That's a vicious, malicious untrue rumor."

It's a "rumor" that spread like fire after a July 16 radio interview with former Lt. Governor of New York Betsy McCaughey, a Democrat.

"The Congress would make it mandatory, absolutely required like every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session, that will tell them how to end their life sooner," McCaughey said in the interview.

Not true, according to Brooks Jackson of the consumer advocate group FactCheck.org.

"What the House bill does... is make end-of-life counseling - things like living wills, advance directives - makes that a covered expense under Medicare," Jackson said.

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.

"There is something legitimately worth talking about here," Jackson said. "If you cover something under Medicare, you pay doctors to do it, they have a financial incentive to do it."

As for what advice patients would get from counselors, they'd hear about services like "hospice." They'd be encouraged to give "preferences" for "life sustaining treatment." That may include limiting "the intensity of medical intervention... if the patient is pulseless... or has serious cardiac or pulmonary problems."

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."

If one study from Harvard is to be believed, the interests of all sides may actually dovetail. It found that cancer patients who had end-of-life counseling spent about $1,000 less in their final week of life, were more comfortable and lived just as long as those who chose more intensive care.

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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