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19 August 2010

The Hidden Costs of Misinformation

According to new research reported on in the NY Times, treating patients' symptoms has the added benefit of actually treating the disease:
In a study that sheds new light on the effects of end-of-life care, doctors have found that patients with terminal lung cancer who began receiving palliative care immediately upon diagnosis not only were happier, more mobile and in less pain as the end neared — but they also lived nearly three months longer.
This is great news. The bad news is that misinformation during the debate over health care reform has virtually ensured that most patients won't have access to such treatment.

During the debate over President Obama’s 2009 health care bill, provisions to have Medicare and insurers pay for optional consultations with doctors on palliative and hospice care led to rumors, spread by talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and by the former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, that the bill empowered "death panels" that would "euthanize" elderly Americans.

Legislators eventually removed the provisions.

Our public discourse has consequences. It's not just political theatre. It's hard for me to imagine anything more ironic than arguing that someone is out to kill granny only later to find out that that someone could have actually helped her live longer and more comfortably.

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