- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another death panel

When Democrats nixed a provision in their health care expansion plans to reimburse doctors who gave end-of-life counseling to the elderly as a step toward trimming Medicare costs, they only dropped the most innocuous “death panel” in their plans, critics say.

The creation of a five-person Independent Medicare Advisory Council (IMAC), supported by President Obama and included in the latest framework by Senate health care negotiators, worries some policy experts. IMAC, called an independent Medicare commission by the Senate, would be empowered to set Medicare rates and make cuts to the program in a way that works largely outside the legislative process.

According to a plan circulated by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, Congress would only be able to override IMAC’s plans if Congress could submit an alternative plan that would save an “equivalent amount of budgetary savings.” An earlier draft version of IMAC that did not make the requirements on Congress so stiff to rescind IMAC plans is posted on whitehouse.gov.

Currently, there is a 17-member Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) that makes recommendations to Congress on how to achieve cost savings, but MedPAC’s suggestions are routinely ignored, largely because advocating cuts to Medicare, a popular program with seniors, is considered politically dangerous. IMAC, on the other hand, would not have to get direct consent from Congress in order for its cuts to be implemented.

“This gives the technocrats in the administration more power and a freer hand to make changes to payment rates and change the terms for exchange,” Michael Cannon, health policy studies director at the Cato Institute, told The Washington Times. He recently wrote an editorial titled, “Sorry Folks, Sarah Palin is (Partly) Right” for the Detroit Free Press, explaining how he thought IMAC would ration health care for those who depend on Medicare. The former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate has been widely denounced by Democrats for suggesting their health care expansion plans would include “death panels.”

“Obama has created a panel that gives IMAC the power to decide who can and who cannot get medical care,” Mr. Cannon said. “This is what he’s talking about it, he’s done it, we’ve got the goods on him.”

David Merritt, vice president of the Center for Health Transformation, said seniors are “absolutely alarmed” with this legislation. “Their support has cratered as they learn more about the Democrats’ plans,” he said in an e-mail. “They know that by setting up new federal panels and agencies that are charged with cutting costs, their benefits, choice and coverage will suffer.”

More criticism

Republicans rallied with parents of children with disabilities on Capitol Hill on Monday to draw attention to the “severe rationing” they think would occur under Democratic health care reform plans.

“When rationing begins, you all will look at my son and other people with disabilities and may wonder what kind of drain he is imposing on this new limited system or wonder what he’s taking away from you,” said Jeanne Devine Bolewitz, whose son Josh has Down syndrome, at a news conference that was attended by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state and Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona.

The event was organized by the Healthcare for Gunner coalition. Gunner, whom the group is named after, is the son of Students for Life Director Kristin Hawkins and has cystic fibrosis. Healthcare for Gunner is a project of Students for Life.

Mrs. Hawkins is particularly concerned comparative effectiveness research conducted by the government to decide what kinds of medical treatments work and should be paid for with tax dollars.

“We started this because we didn’t know what the health care bill would mean for Gunner so we started looking into it … and we worry that with the comparative effectiveness research the government is going to use that to set guidelines as to what can be provided,” she said.

The coalition has a white paper on its Web site, www.healthcareforgunner.com, outlining the problems it has with the House version of the health care bill.

Those concerns include powers given to a health care commissioner and the secretary of health and human services to make decisions about what kinds of services and prescription drugs will be covered under government-subsidized plans.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@washingtontimes.com.

• Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter@washingtontimes.com.

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