16 Nov 2009

It’s Representative Blumenauer’s Pants That Are On Fire

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Oregon democrat Earl Blumenauer made liberals happy with a New York Times editorial calling conservative critics of democrat Health Care Reform “liars” and ridiculing the very idea that what Sarah Palin referred to on Facebook as “death panels” could possibly be found in the bill passed by the House of Representatives.

The most bizarre moment came on Aug. 7 when Sarah Palin used the term “death panels” on her Facebook page. She wrote: “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.”

There is, of course, nothing even remotely like this in the bill.

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The Wall Street Journal, in its lead editorial today, demonstrates rather effectively the falsity of Congressman Blumenauer’s self-proclaimed injured innocence. The editorial is specifically about those “death panels,” and explains exactly what they are, what they would do, and why they are a terrible idea.

Like most of Europe, the various health bills stipulate that Congress will arbitrarily decide how much to spend on health care for seniors every year—and then invest an unelected board with extraordinary powers to dictate what is covered and how it will be paid for. White House budget director Peter Orszag calls this Medicare commission “critical to our fiscal future” and “one of the most potent reforms.”

On that last score, he’s right. Prominent health economist Alain Enthoven has likened a global budget to “bombing from 35,000 feet, where you don’t see the faces of the people you kill.”

As envisioned by the Senate Finance Committee, the commission—all 15 members appointed by the President—would have to meet certain budget targets each year. Starting in 2015, Medicare could not grow more rapidly on a per capita basis than by a measure of inflation. After 2019, it could only grow at the same rate as GDP, plus one percentage point.

The theory is to let technocrats set Medicare payments free from political pressure, as with the military base closing commissions. But that process presented recommendations to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Here, the commission’s decisions would go into effect automatically if Congress couldn’t agree within six months on different cuts that met the same target. The board’s decisions would not be subject to ordinary notice-and-comment rule-making, or even judicial review.

Yet if the goal really is political insulation, then the Medicare Commission is off to a bad start. To avoid a senior revolt, Finance Chairman Max Baucus decided to bar his creation from reducing benefits or raising the eligibility age, which meant that it could only cut costs by tightening Medicare price controls on doctors and hospitals. Doctors and hospitals, naturally, were furious.

So the Montana Democrat bowed and carved out exemptions for such providers, along with hospices and suppliers of medical equipment. Until 2019 the commission will thus only be allowed to attack Medicare Advantage, the program that gives 10 million seniors private insurance choices, and to raise premiums for Medicare prescription drug coverage, which is run by private contractors. Notice a political pattern?

But a decade from now, such limits are off—which also happens to be roughly the time when ObamaCare’s spending explodes. The hard budget cap means there is only so much money to be divvied up for care, with no account for demographic changes, such as longer life spans, or for the increasing incidence of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Worse, it makes little room for medical innovations. The commission is mandated to go after “sources of excess cost growth,” meaning treatments that are too expensive or whose coverage will boost spending. If researchers find a pricey treatment for Alzheimer’s in 2020, that might be banned because it would add new costs and bust the global budget. Or it might decide that “Maybe you’re better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller,” as President Obama put it in June.

In other words, the Medicare commission would come to function much like the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which rations care in England. Or a similar Washington state board created in 2003 to control costs. Its handiwork isn’t pretty.

Read the whole thing.

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We already addressed the “no death panels in our bill” claim long ago, when the first wave of liberal denial crested, in this August 16th posting, which quotes this perfectly accurate analysis by Cornell Law Professor William Jacobsen.

Democrats don’t like it being called a “death panel,” but the idea all along has been that their version of health care reform would avoid public debate by passing the responsibility of meeting budgetary limitations to an unelected commission which would be empowered to ration services. Many of its decisions will inevitably deny medicines, treatments, and procedures whose absence will be the equivalent of a death sentence. Americans will die because government has foreclosed their medical options. The body making such decisions and condemning Americans to deaths which might have been prevented on monetary grounds will not be a “death panel?”

Only if you are a democrat, won’t it be.

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