December 30, 2010

Return of the death panels?

By Return of the death panels?

Author:  Damien M. Schiff

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting oped earlier this week on the resurging "death panels" controversy.  Recall two years ago when Sarah Palin made a splash about how ObamaCare would lead to government bureaucrats making end-of-life decisions for citizens.  Fast forward to the present, with the New York Times reporting that Medicare has, by regulatory fiat, now agreed to pay for end-of-life counseling as part of seniors' physicals.  Ms. Palin has jumped on this move as "death panels" redivivi.

Whatever the merit of Ms. Palin's characterization, the Journal makes the reasonable point that the problem with Medicare's latest entitlement expansion, and ObamaCare in general, is that,

Under highly centralized national health care, the government inevitably makes cost-minded judgments about what types of care are "best" for society at large, and the standardized treatments it prescribes inevitably steal life-saving options from individual patients. This is precisely why many liberals like former White House budget director Peter Orszag support government-run health care to control costs: Technocrats in government can then decide who gets Avastin for cancer, say, and who doesn't.

In fact, the majority of private health insurers offer precisely the controversial benefit that Medicare has now added.  Before ObamaCare, no one considered private insurers to be death panelists (although plenty of invective against private insurance companies has been levied).  The problem now, of course, is that the last folks one would want making important end-of-life decisions—government bureaucrats—are precisely the ones who are being given that power.

The real problem is the political claim that Medicare and other entitlements are imposing on the culture of U.S. health care. Everyone, on the left and right, now behaves as if every medical issue is a political matter that the government or some technocratic panel can and should decide. No wonder "the 'death panel' myth" has such currency among Americans who won't be doing the deciding.

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