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National pro-life leaders fear health care rationing for Medicare patients

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Catholic News Service

NEW ORLEANS — An Obama administration proposal to pay doctors for “advance care planning” for Medicare patients is fraught with dangers for the elderly and those facing serious illnesses, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

Congress needs to act quickly to protect those patients from making uniformed decisions about their care, Burke Balch said during the organization’s annual convention July 9-11 in New Orleans.

Balch, director of the NRLC’s Powell Center for Medical Ethics, said an Obama administration proposal to institute “advance care planning” is designed to “nudge” patients to forgo life-saving treatment and even assisted feeding by giving them “unbalanced, distorted and even inaccurate information” about their condition and the effectiveness of treatment options.

Citing a 2013 Health Affairs article titled “Decision Aids: When ‘Nudging’ Patients to Make a Particular Choice is More Ethical Than Balanced, Nondirective Content,” Balch said advance care planning is touted as a means of drastically cutting health care costs.

Balch said the NRLC favors advance medical directives, it has developed its own “Will to Live” document, and supports alternatives that “provide truly informed consent to decisions about medical treatment.”

The 2013 Health Affairs article offered advice on how doctors could persuade men with prostate cancer to agree not to undergo expensive surgery.

“If incontinence and impotence are presented as plainly stated, that is, with no detailed description of these risks, men with early stage prostate cancer may be swayed toward the option of surgery,” the article said. “If instead those possible side effects of surgery are presented vividly via personal stories, men may be swayed away from the surgery option.”

The Powell Center report, available at www.nrlc.org, cited other widely available advance care planning materials that violate the principle of informed consent by presenting unbalanced facts so that patients might be convinced to forgo cardiopulmonary resuscitation, IV fluids and medically assisted feeding.

Other materials paint disabilities and illnesses in such “an inaccurately repugnant way” they may convince people that a low “quality of life” is not worth living, Balch said.

Balch said Aetna hired the “Center to Advance Palliative Care” in preparing its advance care planning program. The center reported that its program had resulted in a $12,000 average annual reduction in medical benefits.

Balch said using taxpayer money for Medicare advance care planning was so controversial in the original House Affordable Health Care measure that the proposal eventually was dropped.

But July 9, the Obama administration opened a 60-day “notice and comment” period to re-establish the proposal. It was contained in a large set of Medicare regulations. The administration said it plans to finalize the rule on advanced care planning by Nov. 1 and implement it Jan. 1.

Dr. Patrick Conway, the principal deputy administrator and chief medical officer of the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said in a statement that the administration’s proposal “supports individuals and families who wish to have the opportunity to discuss advance care planning with their physician and care team, as part of coordinated, patient- and family-centered care.”

The proposal says Medicare patients will not be required to have that discussion with a physician or sign any directive.

But, Balch said, “we are concerned about the rationing of health care through government action.”

“We support advance directives,” he continued. “We believe patients ought to have the right to make decisions about what medical care they receive. Our ‘Will to Live’ starts with a presumption for treatment, although an individual can indicate specific treatments that he doesn’t want,” he said.

“Tragically, however, there is considerable evidence that in practice, advance care planning is being used deliberately to nudge patients toward accepting a denial of life-saving treatment.”

Balch said many private insurance companies have hired organizations to “cold call” beneficiaries “to talk them into rejecting treatment,” and they usually “report how much money they are saving per beneficiary.”

“In this context, we greatly fear that this advance care planning will not be balanced,” Balch said. “Despite giving lip service to balance, it will be used deliberately to try to reduce health care spending. We are calling on Congress to block this rule.”

Finney is executive editor and general manager of the Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

 

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Health care subsidy ruling hailed by many, but criticism continues

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WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling that upheld federal subsidies to keep health insurance premiums affordable regardless of whether the state or federal government runs the exchange system was welcomed by the president as well as by several religious organizations and stockholders in health care systems.

The June 25 decision in King v. Burwell said that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” and upheld the federal tax breaks that have made it possible for an estimated 6.4 million people in the 34 affected states to be able to afford health insurance because of subsidies averaging $272 a month. Read more »

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Supreme Court upholds health care subsidies in states with federal exchanges

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Writing that “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court June 25 upheld tax subsidies for participants in health care exchanges run by the federal government in states that refused to create them.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts disentangled what he said was “more than a few examples of inartful drafting” in how the 2010 law was written that contributed to the interpretation that federal subsidies for people with lower income should only be available to residents of states that created their own health care exchanges. Read more »

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5th Circuit says HHS accommodation on mandate not a burden on religion

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The religious rights of faith-based entities — including the dioceses of Fort Worth and Beaumont, Texas, and the University of Dallas — are not substantially burdened by the process to receive an accommodation from the federal government to avoid participating in a health care mandate for contraceptive coverage, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 22.       Read more »

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Saint Francis Healthcare focuses on improved heart-health services

February 20th, 2015 Posted in Senior / Health

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Dialog Editor

 

If you develop heart disease, Saint Francis Healthcare in Wilmington can help you with updated labs and a new cardiovascular practice, but if you’d rather avoid heart problems in the future, Dr. Audrey Sernyak, director of SFH cardiovascular services, has a heart-health tip for you.

“Don’t smoke,” she said.

“Smoking increases your risk of heart disease threefold. I’ll live with all your other vices in this world, if I can get you to quit smoking.” Read more »

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A statement from the Catholic Bishops of Maryland: End of Life Decision Making for the Faithful

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The month of November, which begins with the celebration of the companion feasts of the Solemnity of All Saints and All Souls Day, offers a time for our community of faith to pray in a special way for those who have passed to eternal life. As we remember the saints in heaven, and the souls of all those who have gone before us, this time of year also offers us an opportunity to consider important questions we might face at the hour of our own or a loved one’s death.

On a spiritual level, we pray that our journey of faith each day will lead us to a deeper awareness that this life on earth is transitory, and that our true selves will not be fully revealed until we have passed through death into eternity with God. As we more fully grasp this essential reality, we see more clearly the truth of Pope Francis’ words: “Even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.” Read more »

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Health Commentary: Faith-full recipe

October 18th, 2014 Posted in Senior / Health Tags: , ,

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With a tried and true recipe, the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration have been producing altar breads and distributing them since 1910. But in the early 1990s, they began to receive telephone calls from individuals who had a unique need for a different recipe: They suffered from celiac disease and could not receive holy Communion in the form of the usual, wheat-based hosts.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley and many prepared foods, such as wheat-based pastas. Read more »

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U.S. Catholic health care workers, dioceses respond to Ebola crisis

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Tabiri Chukunta has been trying to get the word out to the West African community in New Jersey that their families and friends in Liberia need to put on hold, at least temporarily, cultural traditions of greeting people affectionately and washing bodies of the dead.

For now, Chukunta, executive director of community outreach at St. Peter’s University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey — a long way from his Nigerian homeland — feels the educational campaign has been effective.

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Viewpoint: For caregivers — Special beatitudes and a prayer

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I don’t recall my late wife, Monica, and I ever apologizing to Jesus or the evangelist Matthew for plagiarizing and doing a little rewriting of the beatitudes.

Perhaps I should assume that sometimes since Monica’s death in January 2013, she straightened the whole thing out face to face. Read more »

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St. Mark’s theology teacher anticipates healing after pilgrimage to Lourdes

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Staff reporter

 

WILMINGTON – Mary Johnston sat on a plane at Baltimore Washington International Airport on April 30, prepared for a flight she knew would change her life. She was headed to Lourdes, France, where she was confident she would find healing for various health issues.

The long-awaited pilgrimage was nearly derailed, however, by an engine problem on the plane, but after a night in a hotel, Johnston was off to France. What she experienced there, she said, will affect her the rest of her life and was worth the one-day delay. Read more »

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