Three years ago, my mother died after a long and painful illness. During her last months she was only partially conscious, and in her brief intervals of awareness was often distraught. At several points my father, sister, and I met with doctors to figure out how to ease her obvious suffering with pain medications, and how we could get her into a hospice facility. We could afford the counseling, but millions of other families cannot -- which is why one of the useful heathcare reforms now moving through Congress authorizes Medicare to reimburse doctors for such voluntary end-of-life consultations. The American Medical Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization support the provision.
But in a cruel contortion, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin calls these consultations "death panels," and in a Facebook posting late last night charges that they'll force the elderly to accept minimal end-of-life care in order to reduce health care costs: "It's misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients," and added, "It's all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing."
In her short time on the public stage, we've come to expect this sort of thing from Governor Palin. But listen to other Republicans these days -- and if you can bear it, tune in to right-wing Hate Radio -- and you'll hear more of the same.
Health care is already rationed, of course. Those who can't afford health insurance don't get much of it, except in emergency rooms. For those who have insurance, the rationing is done by prepaid medical groups, the legacies of HMOs, that decide what drugs and procedures their members will get. Or it's done by insurance company personnel who decide what will be covered.
But for the scaremongers to say that under the healthcare reform proposals now being considered, government will do the rationing -- and that government bureaucrats will decide whether people live or die -- is odious. It's a deliberate lie that preys upon the fears of many people who already scared as hell about loss of their jobs, healthcare, homes, and savings.
The "town meetings" that are now spewing such anger reflect deep-seated fears that are welling up across America during this economic crisis. Healthcare reform may ease some of these fears. But the demagogues that are manipulating those fears for political gain don't give a hoot.
Have they no shame?