The New York Times, is credited with breaking the recent story regarding the Obama administration’s new policy in Medicare regulation that would “pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.” In the New York Times piece, it is noted the author of the Medicare provision that Oregon Democrat Congressman Earl Blumenauer, urged supporters to remain quiet about the measure’s inclusion in Medicare:
Mr. Blumenauer, the author of the original end-of-life proposal, praised the rule as “a step in the right direction.”
“It will give people more control over the care they receive,” Mr. Blumenauer said in an interview. “It means that doctors and patients can have these conversations in the normal course of business, as part of our health care routine, not as something put off until we are forced to do it.”
After learning of the administration’s decision, Mr. Blumenauer’s office celebrated “a quiet victory,” but urged supporters not to crow about it.
“While we are very happy with the result, we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blumenauer’s office said in an e-mail in early November to people working with him on the issue. “This regulation could be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders try to use this small provision to perpetuate the ‘death panel’ myth.”
Moreover, the e-mail said: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists, even if they are ‘supporters’ — e-mails can too easily be forwarded.”
The e-mail continued: “Thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it, but we will be keeping a close watch and may be calling on you if we need a rapid, targeted response. The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”
In the interview, Mr. Blumenauer said, “Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes.”
Mr. Blumenauer’s remarks raises eyebrows, because many are wondering if the provision is claimed to be harmless, why does it appear the Congressman wants supporters to keep its inclusion from the awareness of the American people?
Knowing very well most Americans objected to the “end of life” measure in the new health care legislation due to fears it could eventually give doctors a government financial incentive or even mandate to encourage severely ill patients to make life ending decisions too prematurely, Congressman Blumenauer thumbed his nose to the masses.
It must be painfully obvious to Mr. Blumenauer that Americans did not want his end-of-life measure, so the Oregon Congressman decided to run around the will of the people by bureaucratic fiat. Instead, he and his fellow Democrats eventually omitted the measure from the bill only to plan to include it elsewhere after the health care bill passed. Pretty sneaky.
As for the New York Times, the paper took a swipe at The Washington Times Editorial page in August of 2009 for our citing concerns regarding the end-of-life provision originally planned for the health care bill.
The New York Times: False ‘Death Panel’ Rumor Has Some Familiar Roots
The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.
Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality.
But the rumor — which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false — was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.
Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).
In our 2009 September editorial, we wrote about the end-of life provision that was previously included in the healthcare legislation:
The offending provision is on Pages 80-81 of the unamended Baucus bill, hidden amid a lot of similar legislative mumbo-jumbo about Medicare payments to doctors. The key sentence: “Beginning in 2015, payment would be reduced by five percent if an aggregation of the physician’s resource use is at or above the 90th percentile of national utilization.” Translated into plain English, it means that in any year in which a particular doctor’s average per-patient Medicare costs are in the top 10 percent in the nation, the feds will cut the doctor’s payments by 5 percent.
Forget results. This provision makes no account for the results of care, its quality or even its efficiency. It just says that if a doctor authorizes expensive care, no matter how successfully, the government will punish him by scrimping on what already is a low reimbursement rate for treating Medicare patients. The incentive, therefore, is for the doctor always to provide less care for his patients for fear of having his payments docked. And because no doctor will know who falls in the top 10 percent until year’s end, or what total average costs will break the 10 percent threshold, the pressure will be intense to withhold care, and withhold care again, and then withhold it some more. Or at least to prescribe cheaper care, no matter how much less effective, in order to avoid the penalties.
Medicare is already going bankrupt, and more doctors who treat Medicare patients are finding it more unaffordable to provide services for this demographic anymore. Now the government is essentially withholding a reimbursement for doctors who treat Medicare patients if the MD’s do not offer regular end-of-life services consultations to their patients.
Our analysis in 2009 was spot on then and is showing to be true today. The fact The New York Times continues to look for wiggle room to deny the reality of our concerns, as they uncomfortably report the secretive nature of the Medicare measure, just makes it all the more sweet on our end.