By Wendell Goler
FOXWIRE (Washington) The White House says opponents of the President's health care reform effort are misrepresenting parts of the House and Senate legislation.
At a town hall meeting at the AARP headquarters in Washington, Mr. Obama answered a woman in North Carolina, who asked if it was true "that everyone that's Medicare age will be visited and told they have to decide how they wish to die." The President at first joked the government doesn't have enough workers to ask everyone how they want to die, then more seriously suggested the idea is to expand the use of living wills. His aides suggested the misunderstanding was part of a calculated attempt by health reform opponents to undercut support for the effort by misrepresenting parts of the bills.
But critics have concerns the Medicare reimbursement could involve the government in end of life issues. A quarter of all Medicare spending is made in a patients final year of life, and that's when the biggest potential savings could be made. Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley says "a lot of people fear that some of these ideas in these bills can lead" to the government influencing that decision making "and that's unethical as far as I'm concerned." Grassley says end of life decisions should be strictly between patients, families and doctors.
President Obama said "nobody is going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on...some bureaucratic law in Washington." Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says, "these decisions will be made by doctors and patients." In fact the provision in the House bill would allow Medicare to pay for counseling sessions on end of life issues, but it doesn't require them. Gibbs believes the misunderstanding is a result of intentionally spread misinformation. He says "I think there are people that have knowingly spread inaccurate information to hold up progress on health reform."
Still, end of life counseling is sometimes conducted by people with an interest in steering patients away from hospital care and toward less expensive hospice care. And while studies show people actually prefer hospice care, it's important they receive the most informed decision on when to end curative care, and that should come from their doctor.
The White House says the President encourages the creation of living wills, but aides won't say if he specifically supports Medicare reimbursement for end of life counseling sessions. Officials do say the President doesn't share concerns by Senator Grassley and others, that such reimbursement might lead to the government making life or death decisions about health care.
Wendell Goler serves as a senior White House and foreign affairs correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC), joining the network in 1996.