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Republicans Looking Crazy on Health Care

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Friday, July 31, 2009

Some attacks on health care reform are so ludicrous that you don't think they need answering. A recent example invokes an evil plot to save money by knocking off the elderly. Though nuts, the charges have gotten so much attention that someone has to actually say, "No, they're not killing Grandma."

The fake claim is being peddled by "conservatives" who condemn both spiraling Medicare costs and any effort to contain them. Their goal is to stop proposed health care reform by spooking beneficiaries and those approaching retirement.

I'll tell you what ought to really scare the elderly and thesoon-to-be: the prospect that health care reform could fail. More on that later.

Headlining the looney-tunes campaign is Betsy McCaughey, the Sarah Palin of health care. A Senate bill would "pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely," she wrote. Her contention, amazingly, has become a Republican talking point.

"Congress would make it mandatory, absolutely require, that every five years, people in Medicare would have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner," McCaughey said on Fred Thompson's talk radio show. If you were to fall ill during those five years, you would "have to go through that session again."

A pack of lies. The bill would have Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care with your doctor only if you wanted it. This is a new benefit. Should you wish that every last gadget and procedure in the arsenal be deployed, the counseling helps you make that preference clear to family and doctors.

Others may want to "end their life sooner," if sooner means before that last agonizing week of being kept alive in a tangle of wires and tubes through the nose. I know I would want to skip that week.

About McCaughey: She was briefly lieutenant governor of New York. Republican Gov. George Pataki dropped her from his re-election ticket, at which point she became a Democrat and tried to run against him. Sixteen years ago, she helped sink health care reform by circulating untruths about the Clinton plan. She now sits on the board of a medical devices company that feasts off Medicare.

The AARP felt forced to jump into the fray and condemn McCaughey's misinformation campaign as "rife with gross -- and even cruel -- distortions." The elder lobbying group has long pushed to have Medicare pay doctors for time spent talking to patients about "difficult end-of-life care decisions."

Suppose you're a baby boomer who's counting on Medicare to provide health coverage for perhaps 20 years or more starting in your not-too-distant future. Is it in your interests to kill reform that would control some of the program's enormous waste and would guarantee health care security for younger workers? It is not.

Even under the best of circumstances, younger Americans are going to grow testy as they are compelled to support surging numbers of retirees. Now imagine these workers having to struggle for their own coverage while paying ever-higher taxes to give older people whatever care they want regardless of cost or efficacy. From the boomer's point of view, better that Medicare be fixed today.

Republicans should also stand warned. This carnival to discredit adult end-of-life care consultations brings them back into dangerous Terri Schiavo territory. Recall how the Republican leadership accused Schiavo's husband of trying to murder Terri by taking her off life support after she had spent 15 years in a vegetative state, hooked up to tubes. The public was appalled, and Republican fortunes started their slide.

Eventually, the truth will emerge on the proposed end-of-life counseling benefit. One can appreciate the sport in shooting at Democratic-inspired reforms, but Republicans do pay a price for looking crazy.

COPYRIGHT 2009 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop

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