August 14, 2009 in Nation/World

End-of-life cut from Senate health plan

Panel found provision could be misinterpreted
Christi Parsons And Andrew Zajac Tribune Washington bureau
 

WASHINGTON – A Senate panel has decided to scrap the part of its health care bill that has given rise to fears of government “death panels” in recent days, with one lawmaker suggesting that the proposal was just too confusing.

The Senate Finance Committee is taking the idea of “end-of-life care consultations” with doctors off the table as it works to craft its version of health care legislation, a Democratic committee aide said Thursday.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the panel dropped the idea because it could be “misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly.”

For Democrats, the decision was an apparent acknowledgment that the provision has become a lightning rod for critics of a proposed overhaul of the U.S. health care system. Democratic lawmakers and President Barack Obama are trying to extend health insurance to more Americans, rein in health costs and make other changes.

Recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speculated that Obama and other Democrats wanted to set up “death panels” to decide who gets medical services and who does not.

In reality, the end-of-life provision was designed to allow Medicare to pay doctors who counsel patients about end-of-life decisions. The consultations would be voluntary and would provide information about living wills, health care proxies, pain medication and hospice.

A similar provision remains in legislation that was passed by three House committees last month, and the idea could remain on the table when lawmakers move toward agreement on a final bill. Legislation passed by the Senate’s health committee does not include the consultation measure.

The Palin claim about “death panels” was so widely discredited that the White House has begun openly quoting it in an effort to show that opponents of the health care overhaul are misinformed.

On Thursday, an Obama aide volunteered the “death panels” charge as the biggest misconception about the health legislation.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs also called attention to comments from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Palin’s home state of Alaska, who recently complained about the “death panel” claim.

“It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there’s these end-of-life provisions, these death panels,” Murkowski told a crowd earlier this week. “Quite honestly, I’m so offended at that terminology, because it absolutely isn’t” in the bill.

Still, a week after first using the term “death panels” on her Facebook page, Palin defended her claim this week with a new posting.

And senators on the Finance Committee, as they write their version of a health care overhaul bill, decided to get rid of the provision that appears to be animating the claim.

“The Finance Committee is not discussing end-of-life provisions as part of our health care reform negotiations, and such provisions were never a major focus of Finance Committee discussions,” said the Democratic committee aide.

Grassley said he thinks the measure could have been applied in a way the authors never intended.

“We dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly,” he said.


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