Special Report packs in health care falsehoods

In a report on how, in the words of Fox News host Bret Baier, “Republicans are trying to position themselves as the party looking out for seniors' well-being,” Fox News correspondent James Rosen advanced the conservative talking point that Democrats plan to cut Medicare benefits for seniors and presented the widely debunked “death panel” falsehood as a he said/she said. He also advanced the smear that Veterans Health Administration officials are referring veterans to a booklet that encourages them to end their lives prematurely.

Rosen's report falsely suggested Dems plan to cut Medicare benefits for seniors

From the August 24 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier:

BAIER: And now, the health care reform debate. One group whose support is vital for any proposal -- seniors. And out-of-power Republicans are trying to position themselves as the party looking out for seniors' well-being. Correspondent James Rosen explains.

[begin video clip]

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Your government has lost the faith and trust of the American people.

ROSEN: At those raucous town halls, elderly Americans took center stage, venting opposition to cuts in Medicare, the government health care program that covers 45 million Americans, mostly seniors. Now, Republican Party chairman Michael Steele has devised a health care bill of rights just for them.

STEELE: Senior citizens right now are scared to death because they see the government coming into an area of their lives and trying to play in a way that they could get the short end of the stick.

ROSEN: The GOP document may have little impact since Democrats control Congress and the White House, but its broad guidelines include protecting seniors from discrimination and cuts to Medicare coverage. House Democrats have identified $500 billion in Medicare overpayments they say can be saved. Steele calls this a raid not aid of the program. He agreed there is fat to be cut at Medicare but refused to provide a specific estimate of how much.

FactCheck.org: “Congress isn't proposing to cut [Medicare] benefit levels.” According to an August 18 FactCheck.org article, “None of the 'savings' or 'cuts' (whichever you prefer)” to Medicare in the House bill “come from reducing current or future benefit levels for seniors.” From the article:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House bill would result in “savings” of $219 billion after all increases and decreases are netted out. The House bill would trim projected increases in payments for hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and others, including home health care providers and suppliers of motor-driven wheelchairs. But it also proposes what CBO estimates is a $245 billion increase in spending for doctors, by canceling a scheduled 21 percent cut in physician payments. None of the “savings” or “cuts” (whichever you prefer) come from reducing current or future benefit levels for seniors. [FactCheck.org, 8/18/09]

Rosen presented widely debunked “death panel” falsehood as he said/she said

From the August 24 edition of Special Report:

ROSEN: Seniors harbor a special concern about end-of-life care, a subject eclipsed by talk of death panels where bureaucrats might deny care to the elderly on infirm. Democrats say their plans contain no such panels.

“Death panels” smear has been widely debunked -- not just by Democrats. Numerous media outlets have now debunked right-wing claims that the House health care reform bill would encourage euthanasia of the elderly, including Sarah Palin's Facebook claim -- forwarded by the conservative media -- that the bill would create a “death panel” and the related claim -- initiated by Betsy McCaughey -- that the bill would “absolutely require” that seniors on Medicare undergo end-of-life counseling “that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” Indeed, Media Matters for America has identified more than 40 instances in which media outlets have reported that these claims are false.

Rosen advanced smear that VA is pressuring vets to end their lives

From the August 24 edition of Special Report:

ROSEN: Another group with end-of-life concerns is veterans. Some are critical of a Veteran Affairs booklet entitled “Your Life, Your Choices.” The 53-page document was written in part by an advocate of assisted suicide and, in counseling veterans about living wills and when they should decide to, quote, “pull the plug,” offers food for thought like, “I'd never want to live like a vegetable” and “I am a severe financial burden on my family.”

JIM TOWEY (former Bush White House aide): Whether there's a death panel written in a law or not, the real issue is why would the VA be promoting a document written by an assisted suicide advocate that has such a kind of an obsession with death, and with pushing people I think in a direction to deny care.

TAMMY DUCKWORTH (assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs): This “Your Life, Your Choice” is widely used out there, not just within VA. There are many others that are out there, and veterans are free to use whatever they would like to use.

[end video clip]

ROSEN: Secretary Duckworth said her staff has very clearly told medical practitioners not to use this booklet because it is under revision, but a Veterans Health Administration directive issued just last month recommended that physicians treating veterans refer them to this booklet -- Bret.

Towey previously claimed Veterans Administration has a “death book.” On August 18, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Towey headlined, “The Death Book for Veterans.” In it, Towey criticized the booklet “Your Life, Your Choices,” which is one of several end-of-life educational materials used by the VHA. Towey asserted that “government bureaucrats are greasing the slippery slope that can start with cost containment but quickly become a systematic denial of care.” Towey continued: “Last year, bureaucrats at the VA's National Center for Ethics in Health Care advocated a 52-page end-of-life planning document, 'Your Life, Your Choices.' It was first published in 1997 and later promoted as the VA's preferred living will throughout its vast network of hospitals and nursing homes. After the Bush White House took a look at how this document was treating complex health and moral issues, the VA suspended its use. Unfortunately, under President Obama, the VA has now resuscitated 'Your Life, Your Choices.' ” [The Wall Street Journal, 8/18/09]

“Your Life, Your Choices” is not a “death book.” The booklet emphasizes that “your wishes will direct future health care decisions” and presents preserving one's life “using any means possible” as an option to consider. An August 23 post by VoteVets.org blogger Richard Smith criticized Towey's assertion that “Your Life, Your Choices” presents “end-of-life choices in a way aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions,” writing: “Really, if the document was really trying to get veterans to pull the plug on themselves, then first suggesting to them that their life should be prolonged at all costs is a pretty stupid way to do it.”

Rosen failed to mention Towey's conflict of interest: His organization is selling a booklet on end-of-life issues. As Media Matters noted, the organization Towey founded, Aging with Dignity, sells "Five Wishes," a booklet that, like "Your Life, Your Choices," is designed to guide people in the creation of a living will. Huffington Post news editor Marcus Baram reported on August 22 that “Towey seems to have his own axe to grind” in criticizing “Your Life, Your Choices” in that Towey “has repeatedly tried to get the government to spend millions to purchase his 'Five Wishes' book,” citing “VA sources.” Towey is a member of Aging with Dignity's board of directors and received more than $92,000 for “consulting” services from the organization in 2007, the latest year for which Aging with Dignity's tax disclosure form is available.

Rosen misrepresented passage that says, "I'd never want to live like a vegetable." Rosen selectively cited a passage in “Your Life, Your Choices” that says, in part, “I'd never want to live like a vegetable.” In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Towey suggested that language was “aimed at steering users toward predetermined conclusions, much like a political 'push poll.' ” However, as Media Matters noted, the context of that passage was an explanation of the importance of being very specific regarding your end-of-life preferences. “Your Life, Your Choices” says that statements like, “If I'm a vegetable, pull the plug,” can mean different things to different people. From "Your Life, Your Choices":

Have you ever heard anyone say, “If I'm a vegetable, pull the plug”? What does this mean to you? What's a vegetable? What's a plug? Even people who live together can have very different ideas about what the same words mean without knowing it. The story of May and John Williams shows how important it is to be specific about what you mean.

“I'd never want to live like a vegetable.” Both May & John Williams have always shared this belief during their fifty years of marriage. But when they were talking about their advance care plans, they learned that they had very different views about what that meant. For May, it's when she can't take care of herself. John was surprised. For him, being a “vegetable” is much worse. “It's when my brain's not working but my body is being kept alive by machines.” ["Your Life, Your Choices," Pages 6-7]

VHA does not require physicians to refer patients only to the booklet. A July 2 VHA document actually directs patients to " 'Your Life, Your Choices' ... or other published resources."