Certainly the scariest rumor surrounding the health care reform bill holds that the bill would establish government "death panels" assigned to encourage elderly Americans to opt-out of life extending treatment in order to reduce Medicare expenses. This rumor is false.
Across the Internet, blogs and e-mails are claiming that the America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), requires all Medicare beneficiaries to attend mandatory classes once every five years in which they will be instructed on how to end their lives. The claims point to Section 1233 - (Advanced Care Planning Consultation) - on page 425 of the bill as the source of this requirement.
What Section 1233 of H.R. 3200 Really Says
The clause in Section 1233 of the bill actually requires the Medicare program to reimburse doctors if a Medicare beneficiary asks them for consultation on advanced care, end-of-life planning considerations like how to make a living will, assign people to make health care decisions for them (durable power of attorney), and hospice care (which is actually already covered under Medicare).
The "every five years" part of the death panel rumor stems from the fact that Section 1233 of the bill requires Medicare to pay for the advanced care planning services only once every five years. Once again, the consultation would be provided and paid for by Medicare only if requested by the beneficiary.
Describing the "death panels" claims as being "rife with gross-and even cruel-distortions," the American Association of Retired People (AARP) has supported the Advanced Care Planning Consultation requirement, stating that it "would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves [on end-of-life care], but also better ensure that their wishes are followed."
Medicare Handbook Offers End-of-Life Advice
The 2009 version of the Medicare and You handbook contains an extensive section (Section 5) offering advice on planning ahead for end-of-life decisions. Detailed information is provided on advanced directives including creating living wills, appointing health care decision proxies and communicating after-death wishes.