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Martha MacCallum & Dr. Marc Siegel Diss Medicare End Of Life Planning

Reported by Priscilla - January 4, 2011 -

Not only did Fox News end the old year with talk of those scary "death panels" but they rang in the new year with them. As I noted yesterday, the effectiveness of propaganda rests largely on repetition and Fox News keeps on repeating right wing talking points about end of life counseling which will now be reimbursable under Medicare. Doctors will be compensated for voluntary annual discussions about issues like whether you or your relatives decide whether you will die peacefully or be maintained, in a persistent vegetative state, on a machine, But for the right wing, this Medicare provision will be the beginning of a slippery slope which will lead to the Obama administration eradicating the elderly; i.e. "death panels." The messages from the latest round of Fox agitprop were clear: "Death Panels" were removed from the original health care reform bill but they're back. "Controversial" end of life counseling will lead to rationing. End of life counseling is unnecessary. Reinforcing some former agiptprop, we were told that Obama's nominee to head Medicare and Medicaid, Dr. Donald Berwick, is a scary dude who will support rationing of health care. And yesterday, Martha MacCallum, host of a Fox "news" show, provided a platform for a partisan opponent of health care reform, fearmonger, and medical misinformer Dr. Marc Siegel to diss end of life counseling and Dr. Donald Berwick as well as cover all the important propaganda memes. At least Alysin Camerota, in speaking with Peter Johnson, said that end of life planning is important. Martha MacCallum just smiled and agreed with Dr. Siegel. What's really scary isn't end of life planning but folks who believe the crap that Fox is pushing regarding "death panels" because in the end that only hurts them if they avoid discussing, with their doctor, some very important issues. Talk about spreading misinformation!

MacCallum set the propaganda tone immediately with a comment about how end of life planning was removed from the original health care reform because "critics said that the government would get involved in end of life decisions and people didn't want that." She added that the new policy encourages and reimburses doctors to engage in end of life (she did air quotes around the phrase) options for their patients. She told Siegel that "the death panel discussion was cut" from health care reform. The next propaganda point was so obvious when she told Siegel that "you give an example of a patient who comes in to talk to you and Donald Berwick has encouraged you to ask that patient what." Siegel replied that not only is he (Berwick) encouraging but reimbursing him. Siegel related about how he told a patient that situations change and they might "want that respirator" when the time comes. (Right, Terri Schiavo "wanted" the respirator!). When Siegel said that he asked the patient how often they want to have the discussion, MacCallum interjected "never" and smiled prettily. When Siegel asked his patient about how he would feel if the discussion was held annually the patient said "Doc, I'd think I was gonna die." Siegel is worrried that he's being "incentivized to keep coming in there doom and gloom." More agitprop from MacCallum: "So the whole thing is that Donald Berwick, who is a very controversial choice to head Medicare and Medicaid, he now has said that doctors will get reimbursed for (air quotes) end of life discussions...that's to save money in the medical system how?" Siegel referenced the money spent on end of life care and said he was "positive" that Berwick is "targeting" that. More agitp with Siegel saying that if his elderly parents get pneumonia, he doesn't want them being "shut off." He cited an "overall escalation in cutting down of treatment." MacCallum brought up Berwick again when she asked if Berwick wanted that in writing about not getting "the plug pulled" and then that person would not have the option of later changing their minds. (Martha has, clearly, not read the information about this Medicare policy!) Siegel said that "it's a mindset" and "insensitive to real life." He admitted that "they're good to have" but added the caveat of every three or five years. He then claimed that "doctors are so poor now and I don't people feeling sorry for us but if they incentivize this and they give me a reimbursement" (MacCallum said "right") "even when they're cutting my rates on visits and colonoscopies I'll end up having these discussion." Martha laughed when she said "that was the question that popped into my mind" (!?) "why, what's the cost of a discussion. Why are you being reimbursed for a discussion." Siegel said that he has these discussions all the time - even when he wasn't being remibursed. MacCallum continued the love fest with "cuz that's because you're a good doctor." Then he said that "doctors should have these discussions; but not so frequently." MacCallum provided the requisite affirmaton: "right, they shouldn't be paid for it." Siegel agreed and added that they should be paid more in general. MacCallum said "weird stuff."

Comment: If Martha MacCallum took her "news" job seriously, she could have provided some counterpoint to Dr. Siegel rather than giggly affirmation. Clearly, this Medicare regulation does mean that Siegel's parents will be "shut off" but nice use of the Fox/right wing scare tactic. The Chicago Sun Times has an excellent article about the benefits of end of life counseling. As they note (and MacCallum didn't) "Encouraging seniors to think about what, if any, life-sustaining measures they would want taken if they were gravely ill isn’t the same as encouraging them to forgo treatment."They also note that end of life counseling has lowered health care costs. But who cares about facts when the objective is pure propaganda on the part of what Fox "News" says is "real news, fair & balanced!"

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