Friday, December 3, 2010

Death Panels Come to Arizona

Remember Sarah Palin's infamous death panels lie which was intended to derail the Health Care Reform Act? The charge was that under so-called "Obamacare" government bureaucrats would have authority to determine which needy patients live and die based on an economic calculus that weighs those individuals' potential benefit to society against the cost of their treatment. The lie grew out of a dishonest representation of the President's call for comparative effectiveness studies on medical treatments that would save the government money by identifying and steering patients towards the most effective treatments for their illnesses. The theory was that ineffective treatments are simply a waste of money, and patients will most likely benefit from avoiding them. The death panel lie was so outrageous yet so pervasive that it was crowned Politifact's Lie of the Year for 2009.

Well, fast-forward a year and guess what: we've finally got those death panels Sarah Palin warned us of. But don't expect Palin, the GOP leadership or Dick Armey's FreedomWorks to raise a fuss. That's because these death panels are in Arizona and are a result of the GOP led legislature deciding that discontinuing Medicaid funding for certain organ transplants --even though this would mean almost certain death for some 100 indigent patients-- was well worth the $4.5 million a year savings it would bring:

Effective at the beginning of October, Arizona stopped financing certain transplant operations under the state’s version of Medicaid. Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them.

“The most difficult discussions are those that involve patients who had been on the donor list for a year or more and now we have to tell them they’re not on the list anymore,” said Dr. Rainer Gruessner, a transplant specialist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. “The frustration is tremendous. It’s more than frustration.”

Organ transplants are already the subject of a web of regulations, which do not guarantee that everyone in need of a life-saving organ will receive one. But Arizona’s transplant specialists are alarmed that patients who were in line to receive transplants one day were, after the state’s budget cuts to its Medicaid program, ruled ineligible the next — unless they raised the money themselves.

And in typically cowardly fashion Republicans who approved the cuts, when faced with public outrage, have since sought to blame the Obama administration for them:

The Republican governor has in turn blamed “Obamacare,” meaning the federal health care overhaul, for the transplant cuts even though the Arizona vote came in March, before President Obama signed that bill into law.

This episode is revealing, and likely portends the GOP legislative agenda that awaits the nation in January, and much more alarmingly in 2012 and beyond should the GOP gain control of the presidency and perhaps flip the Senate. Riding to political victory on a wave of populist anger over imaginary health-care cuts and large budget deficits, the party's proposed legislative agenda would only exacerbate the problem. It's unwavering devotion to the reckless Bush tax cuts guarantees budget deficits far into the future, and proposals to replace Medicare and Medicaid with voucher programs mean that future beneficiaries of these two programs would get, not necessarily the medical attention they need, but only what they can buy with the limited funds the government has alloted them. Whether it be by explicitly denying coverage for expensive procedures (as in Arizona) or a refusal to pay more than a set amount for health coverage, the GOP plan amounts to the same thing: death panels by another name.

(This article also appears in Stinque)

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