PORTLAND - U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer has defended an end-of-life care provision he wrote in the House version of the health care overhaul bill after one caller at a telephone town hall contended the Oregon congressman wanted to cut off medical treatment to senior citizens.

The provision would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues.

The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend a health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.

Allegations that the bill would deny care to the elderly have spread despite repeated assurances to the contrary from groups such as the AARP, the seniors' lobby.

One woman told the Oregon Democrat on Tuesday she didn't think government was capable of expanding its control over the health care system.

"I don't want to have a hip replacement put on hold until I'm 80 because the line is so long," she said. "You have come right out and said older people should not be getting the care, that senior citizens do not warrant this."

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Blumenauer replied. "We are working to make sure that senior citizens and their families get the information they want and need.

"Right now, Medicare will pay to hook you up to all sorts of machines and test and probe, but it currently doesn't pay to have a conversation for a senior citizen and their family to ask about what they are getting into, what are their choices," he added.

At least 3,400 people joined the hourlong conference call. The congressman's staff said more than 40,000 homes were called to offer people a chance to participate. People also could join in by signing up through Blumenauer's Web site.

Blumenauer, who has been involved in the issue as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, assured one questioner he has indeed read the 1,036-page bill.

The contention that government can't provide quality health care "... is really missing the mark," he said, arguing that the veterans health system provides above-average care.

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