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Published: Tuesday, 1/11/2011

Health hyperbole

While U.S. House members are preparing to hold a meaningless vote on repealing health-care reform, their focus should be on real ways to improve medical treatment and reduce its cost. That includes encouraging patients to talk to their doctors about end-of-life care.

That is the time in a patient's life when treatment is most expensive — when sophisticated life-prolonging measures are employed on behalf of a gravely ill person, usually without medical personnel knowing whether that would be the patient's preference.

Such costly measures often do not deliver quality of life, but only sustain suffering. That's why it is important for patients to review the medical what-ifs with their physicians.

Nowhere does discussing advance directives with a doctor involve a government “death panel,” although that's the falsehood that Republican Sarah Palin and others have injected into this topic.

The fear whipped up by such hyperbole was enough to derail the Obama Administration's attempt to include in the health reform measure a provision for Medicare to cover visits to the doctor to discuss end-of-life treatment contingencies. Late last year, that unfortunate legislative move appeared to be on its way to a remedy. But, sad to say, the bogeyman is back.

A new Medicare regulation that took effect Jan. 1 said “advance care planning” was one of the services that could be covered in a beneficiary's annual wellness visit. But as news of the rule surfaced, the hoots and hollers about death panels returned.

Last week, the administration reversed course and deleted the advance-directive part of the regulation. An official speaking for the White House said the public had not had an adequate opportunity to comment.

Whatever the reason, lack of insurance coverage for consulting with one's doctor on late-stage treatment is proof that America is not serious about curbing the cost of health care. Worse yet, many of those who profess to be the nation's leaders continue to spread deceit and confusion.

Evidently it's better to showboat on a health-reform repeal that will never become law than to help Americans consider their options on the cost and duration of their medical care.

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