Groups weigh in on health care reform myths

Many of those who gathered at a recent town hall meeting on health care reform expressed fear and anger at what they perceive is a government takeover of health care.


At least two national groups, however, are saying those fears are unfounded. AARP is taking out ads to counter what it perceives as the most common distortions in the health care reform debate.

The Association of Bioethics Program Directors, representing a group of 60 academic programs in the U.S., is also weighing in on three "myths" it says are being spread in the current debate.

Issue 1: The proposals pending in Congress will mean losing control of my health care.

Response: "If we thought the major proposals being considered posed a serious threat to these rights, we would be the first to speak out," the bioethics group leaders said in their statement. "But that is NOT the case."

Critics of the health care reform proposal passed by a House committee but not yet by the full House of Representatives point to the "public option" plan that would be added to a health care exchange where people can buy insurance as a first step toward government takeover.

But AARP also notes in an article in the AARP Bulletin Today that the proposals would exclude those with employer-based insurance from being dumped on the public option.

The plans being mulled in the Senate might not even include a "public option" plan but could include "state-run community co-ops" as an alternative, the AARP article notes.

HR 3200, the health proposal most widely cited, grandfathers in employer-based health insurance when the bill goes into effect, with certain limitations, and provides a five-year grace period for those plans to meet the minimum benefits set forth for health insurance exchange plans.

Issue 2: Health care reform will result in rationing.

Response: Both the bioethics group and AARP contend the proposals would actually make health care more available because they would eliminate many of the reasons for denial of care, such as pre-existing conditions.

HR 3200 sets forth a number of minimum benefits that health plans would have to meet in order to be offered through the health insurance exchange. In fact, HR 3200 specifically says qualified insurance plans cannot "impose any annual or lifetime limit on the coverage of covered health care items and services."

The legislation also requires plans to have an adequate network of providers, something Medicaid managed-care plans in the past have been accused of not providing.

HR 3200 also has provisions to look at health care disparities, or why some patients receive less health care than others.

Some critics of health care reform point to a provision in HR 3200 for a panel that would look at the effectiveness of treatments, but, as points out, the legislation does not authorize the panel to mandate or prohibit treatment.

Issue 3: Health care reform will encourage euthanasia as a way to keep costs down.

Response: This concern was voiced by some audience members at the recent town hall meeting in Evans.

AARP contends it stems from a misunderstanding of a provision in HR 3200 that would pay doctors for having a discussion with patients about their end-of-life choices. Much of that section is designed to ensure that patients understand what advance planning is and what resources are available to them. The section specifically notes that all options, including the option to have "full treatment," are available under such planning.

While it is not clearly written, the counseling is obviously optional, the bioethics group notes, calling the denial of end-of-life-care argument "the most pernicious myth of all."

While some have attributed the idea behind the provision to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., what Mr. Isakson proposed was a "very different approach," spokeswoman Joan Kirchner said. Mr. Isakson, a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, was looking at that committee's health care reform bill, which contains a new long-term care program that people can pay into, such as a health savings account, and access to help pay for services if they become incapacitated. Mr. Isakson's amendment, which was adopted by the committee, would have allowed people to use funds from that account to help pay for assistance in setting up a living will or durable power of attorney, Ms. Kirchner said.

"This is not an expansion of Medicare; it's not using tax dollars; it's using their own money," she said. The House bill, HR 3200, "takes a really different approach," Ms. Kirchner said. It calls for Medicare to pay doctors to have the end-of-life counseling session and specifies what topics they have to cover, she notes, which is not what Mr. Isakson wants. However, when criticism of the provision arose this week, President Obama and Democrats wrongly blamed the idea on him, Ms. Kirchner said.

"He put a very different approach into the Senate bill, and he has nothing to do with that House language," she said. However, because of the confusion over the House provision, another Senate committee working on a health care reform bill will likely drop the issue from discussion, Ms. Kirchner said.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or


- Democratic 12th Congressional District Rep. John Barrow will hold Congress on the Corner from 3 to 4 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Southern Bank Pavilion, 855 Liberty St., Waynesboro.

- The Augusta Metro and Columbia County chambers of commerce will be co-hosts of a Community Leadership forum on health care with U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Aug. 26.


To get more help sorting out fact from fiction in the health care debate, go to, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking service of the St. Petersburg Times.