Portland, Ore. – Health insurance reform continues to grip both chambers of Congress and the Obama administration; it also remains a focal point of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose criticism of Portland’s contribution to the House health reform bill fueled a conservative uprising.
President Obama this week noted that the end-of-life counseling amendment, sponsored by Portland’s U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, had been used by conservatives and a “prominent politician” to spread “cynical and irresponsible” charges. Obama referred to Palin and her claim that the amendment would lead to so-called death panels for senior citizens.
Details: Text of Obama speech
Palin responded by accusing Obama of sidestepping her arguments.
As recently as April 2008, then-Gov. Palin supported end-of-life counseling for all Alaskans – a “contradiction” to her allegations of death panel bureaucrats deciding whether to treat seniors or let them die, Rep. Blumenauer said.
Palin declaration ‘same difference’ as Blumenauer amendment
As governor, Palin declared Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16, 2008 to raise public awareness “of the need to plan ahead for healthcare decisions, related to end of life care and medical decision-making whenever patients are unable to speak for themselves.”
“Fewer families and healthcare providers will have to struggle with making difficult healthcare decisions in the absence of guidance from the patient,” Palin wrote in the proclamation.
An aide to Rep. Blumenauer, Erin Allweiss told KGW that the end-of-life provision would pay doctors to counsel Medicare patients when they received a terminal prognosis.
“The goal was to give patients a say and their physicians, the guidelines, so that all the choices are clear before a major health care decision is made,” she said.
Palin’s office told KGW that comparing Alaska’s Healthcare Day proclamation with the House end-of-life provision was “hysterically funny” and “desparate.”
“The Healthcare Day proclamation did not evaluate whether your life is worth surgery, a pill, or maybe even death,” a possible result of Portland’s provision, Palin spokesperson Meghan Stapleton told KGW.
“Gov. Palin signed a proclamation raising awareness on an issue, asking knowledgeable Alaskans to volunteer their time to help fellow Alaskans with answering any questions they may have on end-of-life issues,” she added.
Blumenauer’s office called Palin’s proclamation “the same difference” as the congressman’s federal amendment.
Death panels still resonate with Americans
A late August poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that Palin’s characterization of end-of-life counseling as “death panels” had caught on with the American public.
The center announced last month that 86 percent of Americans had heard of “death panels” and that many respondents identified health reform with the phrase, even though death panels don’t exist.
So-called death panels as proposed by Blumenauer would ration care for the elderly, sick and disabled, Palin said in a note on her Facebook page. Panels of government bureaucrats would “decide, based on a subjective judgment of ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether (patients) are worthy of health care,” she wrote.
Those assertions were immediately rejected by several Republicans, who acknowledged that the Blumenauer provision didn’t even mention death panels.
Sen. Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia, told the Washington Post that Palin’s interpretation was “nuts” and said that every state, including Alaska had laws allowing end-of-life directives.
Healthcare Decisions Day
Alaskans should prepare for the end of life through counseling with hospice or palliative care workers and with living wills so that “more citizens will have conversations about their healthcare decisions.”
The proclamation argued that citizens weren’t making preparations because of public confusion. Healthcare Decisions Day would “encourage hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities … and hospices to participate in a statewide effort to provide clear and consistent information to the public about advance directives.”
Palin spokesperson Meghan Stapleton pointed out “significant differences” between the Healthcare Decisions proclamation and Blumenauer’s end-of-life amendment.
Palin endorsed “voluntary” preparation in 2008 whereas the Medicare funding provision would require such counseling. The Alaska proclamation was “not evaluating whether your life is worth surgery or a pill — or maybe even assisted death.” It was not law of the land, cost taxpayers nothing and did not incentivize end-of-life health care cost reduction, Stapleton said.
YouTube: Blumenauer defends provision
Blumenauer’s office noted that the House provision also was voluntary – until the patient received a terminal diagnosis – and that euthanasia was illegal in all 50 states. Further the provision blocked funding for physician-assisted suicide in states like Oregon and Washington where that was a legal way to die.
“Then doctors must explain all the options available, be they surgery, treatment, hospice or otherwise,” Allweiss said. “It helps ordinary people figure out their options.”
End-of-life counseling has bipartisan history
Three Republicans co-sponsored Congressman Blumenauer’s amendment, including Dr. Charles Boustany, the Louisiana lawmaker who responded to Obama’s speech.
Details: Read text of Republican response
Dr. Boustany withdrew his sponsorship of the amendment after Palin’s criticism had unleashed a firestorm of conservative backlash, Blumenauer’s office said.
In the Senate, federally funded end-of-life counseling has been sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins and Richard Lugar. Sen. Isakson, R-Ga., sponsored a measure considered farther-reaching than Blumenauer’s, which would have required new Medicare patients to have a living will or advanced directive.
Last Month, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski accused Palin of “making false claims … to gin up fear in the American public.
Details: Portland lawmaker slams Palin
President George H.W. Bush in 1992 signed a law requiring hospitals to assist Medicare and Medicaid recipients with end-of-life directives if they requested help.
Poll: Americans identify health reform with ‘death panels’
A majority of Republicans, 57 percent either believed or were unsure about death panels deciding whether to euthanize seniors, according to the Pew poll.
About 28 percent of independents believed the Blumenauer provision would lead to death panels euthanizing seniors. And the poll found that 86 percent of Americans were familiar with the phrase “death panels” — many identified health reform itself with the phrase.
KGW NewsChannel 8