Friday, August 14, 2009

As with Medicare in the 1960s, Dems should do it alone

Like most health policy professors I have been thinking about healthcare reform for years, so when the issue finally took front stage I was elated. I strongly supported President Obama’s objective of working with Republications to find a bipartisan solution, so although I favor Senators Edward Kenney and John Dingell’s “Medicare for all” approach, I understood that would never secure Republican support. So I got behind the President’s strategy of taking single payer off the table. But now, I must conclude I was wrong. There is no hope for biparti sanship. Republications have no interest in solving the healthcare problem. They merely want to see the President defeated. Republican Senator Jim DeMint made the strategy clear when he fashioned healthcare reform as President Obama’s Waterloo.

In last Tuesday’s New Hampshire town hall meeting, President Obama gave a “shout out” to Republication Senators who he felt were working in a spirit of bipartisanship to find solutions. Said the President, “now, I think that there are some of my Republican friends on Capitol Hill who are sincerely trying to figure out if they can find a health care bill that works -- Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Olympia Snowe from Maine have been.” (Click here for the text of the President’s remarks).

Less than 24 hours after the President’s “shout out” Senator Chuck Grassley was caught on tape spreading the "Obama death panel" lie. At an appearance at a town hall meeting in Iowa Senator Grassley told the crowd they were correct to fear that the government would "pull the plug on grandma."

Where did the death panel lie originate? Republication Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia proposed that doctors be reimbursed by Medicare for time spent counseling patients and their families on end-of-life decisions, such as making a living will, or informing doctors about the patent's desire whether or not to remain on life support. This inherently reasonable Republican proposal somehow morphed into Obama's “death panels.”

Senator Grassley is not alone. Other national Republication leaders are also distorting Republican Senator Isakson’s proposal and acting as if the proposal was made by the President. Perhaps the most egregious case came from failed Vice Presidential candidate and failed Alaska Governor Sara Palin who went as far as to state that “Obama's death panel," might kill her infant son, Trig. “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, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

So here are three facts that seem to be getting lost in all the noise:

(1) President Obama has not presented ANY healthcare plan. He has left it to Congress to work out a bill.
(2) There are proposals making their way through the House of Representatives, but there still is no final House bill.
(3) The Senate has not even written a Bill yet.