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Harkin: Mistake to drop end-of-life counseling in Medicare
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) says the Obama administration is wrong to eliminate references to end-of-life counseling in the protocol for the new annual Medicare check-up.
Responding to questions on the matter during a conference call with several members of the media, Harkin said seniors should have vital information about such planning available. The matter shouldn’t be a controversial political issue.
“I think the Obama administration should not have dropped that reference,” Harkin said. “I think that we need that type of counseling in Medicare when you go in for an annual check-up. It’s not death panels. It’s just basically letting people know what their rights are and giving them the option.”
One version of a House health-care bill in 2009 included a provision for end-of-life counseling on a voluntary basis in Medicare but it was pulled after former GOP Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin famously seized on the language and accused Democrats of pushing “death panels” in which she alleged that doctors and the federal government would conspire to withhold treatment from elderly people under the guise of end-of-life planning.
No such rationing provision existed in proposed legislation but detractors seized on a plan inserted by a Georgia Republican to provide Medicare funding for voluntary end-of-life counseling for living wills. The government’s role would have been to reimburse doctors for taking the time to have the conversations.
Grassley thrust himself into the center of the media firestorm surrounding the matter by saying the following: “In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life. You have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.”
Harkin hinted that such rhetoric is behind the administration’s decision to abandon plans that encourage people to make living wills and otherwise inform family and medical providers of their last wishes so loved ones don’t have to make painful guesses.
“I know that Palin and others have talked about the death panels,” Harkin said. “You shouldn’t let scare tactics like this do away with what you know is right and proper and good for people.”
Harkin said people opposed to end-of-life counseling references in Medicare check-ups are simply withholding information seniors should have.
“It can be devastating for families because they haven’t planned,” Harkin said.
Harkin dismissed as ridiculous the notion advanced by some that people should only deal with end-of-life decisions when they are terminal.
“How do you know when you’re going to die?” Harkin said. “No one knows that.”
There should be public information available that encourages patients to discuss these matters with their doctors.
“Now the administration has backed off,” Harkin said.