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Health care rumors unfounded

Posted: August 8, 2009 8:57 p.m.
Updated: August 9, 2009 4:17 p.m.
 
Senior citizens are being bombarded with rumors about proposed health care reform that are laced with messages about government-assisted suicide, American Association of Retired Persons officials said Friday.

"It's a complete fabrication," said Mark Beach, AARP's California spokesman. "There's a place for debate and there's a place for opinion, not out-and-out lies."

The rumors gained traction among senior citizens in the Santa Clarita Valley. "They told us after 70 (years old) they're going to reduce the level of our health care and they're going to teach us how to kill ourselves," said Terri Wahl, 72, of Canyon Country.

Beach blamed ominous forces for propagating the rumor. "I believe there are well-organized and well-funded organizations that don't want the status quo to change," he said.

Beach declined to specify whom or what those forces are.

Congressman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, addressed the health care debate on the floor of the House of Representatives.

"Start reading about how they're going to have you, at 65, go in and have a planning session with a health care consultant on how you're going to die," McKeon said.

In an e-mail from McKeon's office, staff members clarified McKeon's comments, saying the congressman was referring specifically to Item E on page 425 of the bill. The paragraph details consultations on hospice care.

McKeon press secretary Lindsey Mask said Item E indicates that the bill has an end-of-life planning element.

"Hospice care is for the terminally ill and usually involves a five- to 10-day stay," said Brad Berens, executive director of the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

Beach, who is familiar with the comments made by McKeon and other members of Congress, characterized the comment as a misrepresentation of the bill and said it was irresponsible on the part of a congressman.

"Members of Congress should know better," Beach said. "I know what the provision said, and it's not what the congressman said."
However, some senior citizens gathered Friday at the Senior Center think AARP should know better than to support this version of health care reform.

"I'm very suspicious of AARP," said Pauline Norris, 86, of Castaic. "They need not to agree with what's being said by the supporters of health care reform. They need to advertise against it."

Norris, who is a member of AARP, said the organization shouldn't abandon the senior citizens who make up its base.

Beach said the AARP still hasn't endorsed any form of health care reform, and its current actions are aimed at debunking myths.

"What we're hoping for is that the debate happens in both (congressional) houses and we can get behind a health care plan we can support," he said.

There are two versions of the health care bill, one in the House of Representative and one before the Senate. The House bill contains language detailing end-of-life counseling but says nothing about euthanasia, Beach said.

The language in the House bill does include counseling for living wills and medical directives paid for by the government.

"Living will and medical directives serve to help patients, not the government," Beach said.

Consultations like the one detailed in the House health care bill are common practice at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, said Ade Sogbein, assistant director of support services at the Senior Center.

"You need to make sure you have a voice," she said. "When you've got a health directive drawn up, you have a voice."

Sogbein meets regularly with senior citizens to discuss end-of-life issues and understands why the recent chatter about euthanasia in the blogosphere and in the news has struck a nerve with the elderly.

"When we talk to seniors about these issues, we try to make them comfortable because they get very anxious," she said.

Bill Stehle, 68, of Newhall, wants his fellow senior citizens to wait patiently as Congress debates health care.

"It's my opinion that it's too early to see how this is going to shake out," Stehle said. "People need to be patient."

Congress is recessed. Before any reforms can happen, the House of Representative and the Senate will have to pass similarly worded legislation, Beach said.

"There's nothing close to a final bill yet."

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