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Caught with "pants on fire," McCaughey backtracks, hedges -- again

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After repeatedly falsely asserting that House Democrats' health care reform bill makes end-of-life counseling for seniors "mandatory," Betsy McCaughey was forced to backtrack from her claim -- a claim PolitiFact.com called "a ridiculous falsehood." Confronted with accusations that she lied about the bill, she claimed, as she had done with a prior falsehood about another bill, that she was right about the effect (if not the literal wording) of the legislation.

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For at least the second time, former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey has been caught making a false claim about pending legislation and then backtracking by claiming that she was describing the effect, if not the literal language of the bill. In February, McCaughey claimed that the economic recovery act would permit the government to dictate treatment but after being confronted about the falsehood, reportedly said the legislation was vague enough to allow it to happen in the future. More recently, after saying that the House health care reform bill would "absolutely require" end-of-life counseling, according to a July 28 Politico article, when asked about criticism of that claim, McCaughey stated that "[i]n so many words" the bill would make end-of-life counseling mandatory because "although it is presented in the bill as a Medicare service, when a doctor or a nurse approaches an elderly person who is in poor health, facing a decline in health, and raises these issues, it is not offering a service. It is pressuring them."

In recent weeks, McCaughey has repeatedly asserted that the House Democrats' health care reform bill makes end-of-life counseling for seniors "mandatory." PolitiFact reported: "On the radio show of former Sen. Fred Thompson on July 16, 2009, McCaughey said 'Congress would make it mandatory -- absolutely require -- that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.' "PolitiFact.com stated:

For our ruling on this one, there's really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would "tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner" is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn't just wrong, she's spreading a ridiculous falsehood. That's a Pants on Fire. [emphasis added]

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After Politico asked McCaughey in July 28 article to respond to criticisms of her claim, she backpedaled, telling Politico that the bill would make end-of-life counseling mandatory "[i]n so many words":

Asked to respond to the criticism of her statements, McCaughey told POLITICO she stands by her interpretation that the consultations are mandatory.

"In so many words, it is -- because although it is presented in the bill as a Medicare service, when a doctor or a nurse approaches an elderly person who is in poor health, facing a decline in health, and raises these issues, it is not offering a service. It is pressuring them," McCaughey said Monday. "I would not want that to occur when I am not at my parents' bedside."

The provision states that as part of an advanced care consultation, an individual and practitioner shall have a consultation that includes "an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title."

This is not the first time McCaughey has been caught in a falsehood about health care reform and reacted by claiming she was right about the effect, if not the literal wording, of the legislation. After McCaughey repeatedly claimed that provisions in the economic recovery act would permit the government to dictate treatment, she was confronted by CNN health care reporter Elizabeth Cohen, who reported: "I had a PDF of the bill up on my computer. I said, 'Show me where in the bill it says that this bill is going to have the government telling your doctor what to do.' And [McCaughey] directed me to language -- it didn't actually say that. But she said that it was vague enough that it would allow for that to happen in the future."

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