A Health-Care Story That Answers Reader Pleas
Last Sunday’s ombudsman’s column noted that readers say they want more explanatory stories on the health-care debate. Today’s Post has one that responds to their plea.
Reporter Alec MacGillis writes from La Crosse, Wis., about the hospital where the “Death Panel” myth began. The town’s biggest hospital, Gundersen Lutheran, started the push to have Medicare compensate doctors for offering end-of-life planning for patients. Today, MacGillis writes, more than 90 percent of the town’s 52,000 residents have advance-care directives that provide guidance to loved ones who might one day be called upon to decide when to end life-sustaining medical treatment.
In 1,600 words, MacGillis lays out a clear-headed explanation of how the advance-care directives work, as well as how the concept got hijacked by politicians and turned into “death panels” -- something opposite of what they are. His story is an example of the type of explanatory health care story readers say they want.
First, MacGillis took the reporting away from Washington and went to the scene.
Second, the piece is jargon-free. It explains the concept of end-of-life planning in terms that can be understood by ordinary readers. For example, one doctor says a loved one typically might tell family members in advance that they should stop life-sustaining treatment “when I’ve reached a point where I don’t know who I am or who I’m with, and don’t have any hope of recovery.”
Third, the story quotes average folks -- not wonks -- on how they grapple with the conditions under which the plug should be pulled.
Fourth, it’s chock full of illuminating facts. Example: “A quarter of Medicare costs – totaling $100 billion a year – are incurred in the final year of patients’ lives, and 40 percent of that in the last month.”
Fifth, MacGillis was joined at noon for an online chat that included Gundersen Lutheran officials Bud Hammes and Joan Curran. For an hour, they answered readers’ detailed questions about end-of-life planning.
Today’s Post has several other health care stories that, in varying degrees, deal with political aspects of the health care debate. All are good and necessary. But judging from online audience reports, most readers were interested in the MacGillis piece. As of mid-afternoon, it was atop the “Most Viewed Articles” list on The Post’s Web site.
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