Avoid death panels; let them all die

September 17, 2011

It’s horrifyingly ironic if you think about it:  Republicans opposed expanding access to the health care system with a false claim that the Democratic plan included rationing of health care in a “death panels” clause.  Completely untrue.  The bill barely passed.

But did you see what happened last week at the Republican Party’s event featuring their candidates for president?  Here a citizen responds to the Republicans:

In their silence, Republicans appear to support rolling back current health care, foregoing “death panels” as not harsh enough, and moving on to “let ’em all die.”

Tip of the old scrub brush to MoveOn.org.

The birth of death panels in the unprincipled opposition to improving health care in America

November 16, 2009

Heckuva story.  Earl Blumenauer is the man responsible for the language in H.R. 3200 that Sarah Palin erroneously claimed created “death panels.”

He’s a Congressman from Oregon.

In Saturday’s New York Times he detailed how critics hijacked the debate with false claims.  Fascinating story.

A very odd result:  Because of the false claims, a provision to help people plan to avoid death panels was stricken from health care reform proposals.  More citizens will face death panel-like decisions as a result.

Previously I thought Orwell was convoluted.

End the hoaxes, part 3a: Government plans pay for cancer treatment, private insurance no better

August 23, 2009

Sad story out of Oregon, but a familiar story to anyone who has followed health care issues during any part of the past 40 years:  A woman gets cancer, her physician recommends a pharmaceutical or surgical procedure, but the insurance company denies coverage.

In this case, the story is being pushed by opponents to health care reform as a scare tactic.  ‘Health care reform means cancer-fighting drugs won’t be covered.’  The tenuous link to reality this argument has is this:  The woman is insured by Oregon’s public insurance alternative, a one-state effort to do what private insurance failed to do.  So, the critics reason, if she can’t get coverage under Oregon’s public plan, no one will get coverage under any government plan.

The pharmaceutical is a recently-developed cancer fighter, Tarceva.

It’s a crude bluff.  Reality is different.

  1. Medicare may pay for coverage of the drug in question, Tarceva. The Oregon public program has a rather high standard for coverage — 5% chance of survival for 5 months or more, established in clinical trials — but Medicare supplemental insurance plans, a federal program, will pay for Tarceva for non-small cell lung cancer treatments.  Oregon’s program may not be equivalent to the federal program proposed.
  2. Private insurance companies often deny coverage for cancer treatments. The story from Oregon shows the disparities in care, and it demonstrates well that rationing of health care is a key feature of the current system, a key reason to work for reform.  But denial of coverage occurs across the nation, and, I think statistics would show, more often from private insurance companies, often for less judicious reasons.  In Kansas, Mary Casey got the rejection from her private insurance company:  “But when Casey went to fill her Tarceva prescription at the pharmacy, her insurer, Coventry Health Care of Kansas, denied her coverage for the drug, saying it considered Tarceva experimental in her case, even though Tarceva is FDA approved for other lung and pancreatic cancers.”  There is no significant difference between private coverage and the Oregon public plan.
  3. Private insurance failed:  This woman is on the Oregon plan because private insurance didn’t provide any coverage for her.

Barabara Wagner’s story troubles anyone with a heart.  It’s not an argument against reforming health care and health care insurance, however, because Wagner wouldn’t be alive to this point without a government plan in Oregon, analogous to the public option proposed in the House bill; because private insurance does not differ significantly in its coverage of cancer victims; and because this woman is on a public program in the first place because private insurance simply failed to cover her at all.  Under private insurance, this woman would have been dead months ago, if not longer.

Other notes:

“Death panel” as fiction

August 22, 2009

Odd observation: Electronic searches of H.R. 3200, ‘”America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009,” find that the word “death” occurs only twice in the bill, on pages 588 and 596.

On page 588, the reference is to fines to a “skilled nursing facility” for lapses in care that result in the death of a patient. On page 596, again the reference is to a fine to a nursing facility for a lapse in care that results in the death of a patient.

In each case in which the word “death” occurs, the context is a fine for causing death.

The word “mortality” occurs once, on page 620. It occurs in a section that requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to set priorities in national health care quality improvement, and to give priority to ideas that “have the greatest potential to decrease morbidity and mortality in this country, including those that are designed to eliminate harm to patients.”

In the only case in which “mortality” occurs, the context calls for reducing mortality.

Don’t take my word for it. Go search the bill yourself.

Critics appear not to have read the bill.  When writing fiction, sometimes it’s best not to be bound by reality.  However, when one is not bound by reality, one is writing only fiction.

End the hoaxes, part 1: Health care costs cause bankruptcies

August 17, 2009

Health care costs, especially coupled with lack of adequate insurance even for insured people, drove our nation to the brink of economic collapse.

We need health care reform now, to help get our economy back on its feet.

“Unless you’re a Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, you’re one illness away from financial ruin in this country,” says lead author Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., of the Harvard Medical School, in Cambridge, Mass. “If an illness is long enough and expensive enough, private insurance offers very little protection against medical bankruptcy, and that’s the major finding in our study.”

Woolhandler and her colleagues surveyed a random sample of 2,314 people who filed for bankruptcy in early 2007, looked at their court records, and then interviewed more than 1,000 of them. Health.com: Expert advice on getting health insurance and affordable care for chronic pain.

They concluded that 62.1 percent of the bankruptcies were medically related because the individuals either had more than $5,000 (or 10 percent of their pretax income) in medical bills, mortgaged their home to pay for medical bills, or lost significant income due to an illness. On average, medically bankrupt families had $17,943 in out-of-pocket expenses, including $26,971 for those who lacked insurance and $17,749 who had insurance at some point.

Overall, three-quarters of the people with a medically-related bankruptcy had health insurance, they say.

“That was actually the predominant problem in patients in our study — 78 percent of them had health insurance, but many of them were bankrupted anyway because there were gaps in their coverage like co-payments and deductibles and uncovered services,” says Woolhandler. “Other people had private insurance but got so sick that they lost their job and lost their insurance.” Health.com: Where the money goes — A breast cancer donation guide.

Personal bankruptcies played a large role in the banking crisis of late last year and early 2009.  Personal bankruptcies played a huge role in the collapse of mortgage securities markets, which prompted the banking crises.

If anything, current proposals do not go far enough in reforming insurance.

“To ignore the fact that medical costs are an underlying problem of the economic meltdown we’ve experienced would be to turn a blind eye to a significant problem that we can solve,” she said [Elizabeth Edwards, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress].

Edwards was joined by Steffie Woolhandler, a co-author of the Harvard study [discussed above] who sharply criticized current reform efforts.

“Private insurance is a defective product that leaves millions of middle-class families vulnerable to financial ruin. Unfortunately, the health reform plan now under consideration in the House would do little to address this grave problem,” Woolhandler said.

Without new legislation along the lines of the Democratic proposals in Congress, our nation faces economic doom.

Phony assertions of “death panels,” phony assertions of “creeping socialism,” phony claims about bad care in England, Canada and France, are all tools that help push our nation to economic failure.

Please do not be hoaxed.

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Obama on health care: With an eye and an ear to history; with heart to those who hurt

August 16, 2009

Did you catch Obama’s op-ed in the New York Times yesterday?

OUR nation is now engaged in a great debate about the future of health care in America.

Of what famous speech does that line remind you?

Obama is looking to past presidents’ efforts to push legislation, too — learning from the failures and hoping not to repeat (think Wilson and the campaign to ratify the Treaty of Versailles), learning from successes and hoping to expand (think of Lyndon Johnson and the creation of grants to college students).

Mostly, Obama’s hoping to give a boost to health care reform efforts slowed by the vicious, false rumor campaign against it.

See what Obama himself wrote, below the fold.

Read the rest of this entry »

Republican death trip

August 14, 2009

Senate Finance Committee members said yesterday they would strip out of the health care discussion any mention of helping older Americans or others with terminal diseases make adequate plans with, for example, durable powers of attorney and living wills.

Newt Gingrich and others on the wackaloon right have made the topic toxic, despite it’s having been urged by Republicans, to ensure privacy and individual rights near the end of death.

And so, also, we bid farewell to morality, reason and backbone among Republicans nationally.

Two pieces you should read:

  1. “Republican Death Trip,” Paul Krugman’s column today in the the New York Times
  2. “Sarah Palin’s death panels,” at former Labor Sec. Robert Reich’s blog

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