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McCaughey tells Stewart healthcare bill is 'deadly to seniors'

By Matthew Shaer / August 21, 2009

On Thursday night, Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, and an outspoken critic of the current healthcare proposal, appeared on 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.' Both Stewart and McCaughey remained civil throughout the interview, although there were a few tense moments.

Screen grab from TheDailyShow.com

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Over the past few years, a long line of conservative figures have paraded through "The Daily Show" studio on Manhattan's west side. Some have fared better than others. (John McCain got along famously with Stewart; an interview with Lynne Cheney was a little strained, to say the least.)

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But all have been treated fairly. As Republican Cliff May told New York magazine this month, "[Stewart is] a thoughtful liberal, and I respect that."

Still, if you've turned on a television in the past couple days, you know the healthcare proposal is an explosive issue, to say the least. ("Passing a big bill like this is always messy," President Obama acknowledged yesterday.) So Stewart's decision to interview Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, raised more than a few eyebrows. To recap: McCaughey, who served alongside Governor George Pataki from 1995 to 1998, has styled herself as an expert on healthcare.

In 1994, she published in The New Republic a critique of former President Bill Clinton's healthcare reform proposal -- a critique that is widely credited with helping to galvanize conservatives. And this year, she re-emerged as a vocal opponent of Obama's plan.

For instance, she has vociferously denounced a section of the reform bill that she says would force doctors to "pull the plug on Grandma." (The phrase "death panels" was apparently coined by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin; McCaughey has declined to use those exact words.)

Showdown

In a long interview with Stewart on Thursday night, McCaughey stood by her claims, reiterating that she believes "this bill is deadly to seniors." She pointed specifically to page 425 of H.R. 3200, the heathcare proposal advanced by the White House. As factcheck.org notes, "That section would require Medicare to pay for some end-of-life planning counseling sessions with a health care practitioner." So is McCaughey correct? Not exactly, according to factcheck.org, a non-profit, non-partisan site:

Page 425 does deal with counseling sessions for seniors, but it is far from recommending a "Logan’s Run" approach to Medicare spending. In fact, it requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices -- including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would "push suicide" is a falsehood.

Stewart admitted that he had not read the entire bill -- which is available here, if you've got some spare time on your hands -- but he was well-informed on McCaughey's claims, and the debate proceeded at a civil, if brisk, pace.

"It seems like this bill is allowing people more control over their lives and that your reading of it is hyperbolic and, in some cases, dangerous," Stewart said at one point. Later, he added, "In 1961 Ronald Reagan argued that Medicare was going to be the death of everyone, of seniors, that government was going to control, that socialism was going to be on our door step. None of it came to pass."

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