Democrats Call Foul on Republican Objection to 'Death Panels'

Democratic health care strategists are calling foul today on GOP officials John Boehner, Thaddeus McCotter, Johnny Isakson, and Chuck Grassley, claiming the Republican Party leaders are guilty of partisan obstructionism of the worst kind – demagoging the same end-of-life provisions, the now-famous “death panels,” they supported in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug bill.

“So either Republicans were for death panels in 2003 before turning against them now–or they’re lying about end-of-life counseling in order to frighten the bejeezus out of their fellow citizens and defeat health reform by any means necessary,” wrote TIME’s Amy Sullivan.

Not quite.

The four Republicans did, as Sullivan reported, vote for the 2003 bill, but nowhere in the bill did it call for the same broad and wholly unnecessary end-of-life counseling practices as President Barack Obama’s proposal.

Republican operatives argue the comparison between the two bills is an unfair one, noting, specifically, that Republican-backed provisions in the 2003 bill called for end-of-life counseling only in cases where individuals were already on hospice care—that is, terminally ill and close to death—whereas the 2009 bill calls for end-of-life counseling for all 44 million seniors on Medicare every five years.

“Anyone who understands this issue would find this comparison idiotic,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “Hospice care is, by definition, for people who are already close to death. The Democrats’ new government takeover of health care legislation would offer this counseling to every senior on Medicare.”

The 2003 bill, Steel explains, is not nearly as prescriptive as the proposed legislation of 2009, which calls for, among other things, the explanation of living wills, durable power of attorney, orders of life-sustaining treatment, health care proxies and end-of-life services by medical practitioners.

The 2003 legislation backed by Boehner, McCotter, Isakson, and Grassley was specific as it related to end-of-life consultation for those already in hospice care or those who were terminally ill – not for the 44 million seniors already enrolled in Medicare.

Cross-posted at Skepticians.com.

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