Too many politicians seem to be deliberately misleading people.

This is as serious as a heart attack. America's health-care system is sick. But too many Republicans, elected and otherwise, are deliberately misleading Americans about what's being proposed.

First some background: If you believe America has "the best health care in the world," you aren't paying attention. Almost 50 million Americans have no health insurance and many struggle to pay for care. Millions more are a layoff notice away from being uninsured. Our health statistics lag other wealthy nations.

Yes, proposals being hashed out in Washington are controversial. Even the Democrats in Congress can't agree. Should an optional government insurance plan compete with private ones? Should businesses be forced to buy insurance for all workers? Should everyone have to have some kind of insurance? How best to pay for it all?

There's plenty of room — and need — for legitimate debate. Instead, we're getting distortions and outright lies.

Some want to make people believe we'd all be forced onto a government health-care system. That's baloney. Proposals being considered wouldn't force anyone onto government health care.

Consider the so-called "death panels." The facts: A proposed provision would let Medicare pay for voluntary (not mandatory) end-of-life counseling. If you've ever helped an elderly loved one struggle with tough decisions about care or hospice, you know counseling could be a godsend. But many are distorting that. One is ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. On her Facebook.com page last week she implied, predictably, that Democrats want "a government run health-care system" and wrote: "The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide ... whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

It sure would be — if it were being proposed.

The problem of health care is serious — as serious as a heart attack or cancer. We're being ill-served by those who reject honest debate and opt for irresponsible scaremongering and outright lies.

(c) 2009, The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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