Pro-Life Group Worries “Death Panels” Added Back to ObamaCare

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2010   |   7:21PM   |   Washington, DC

A pro-life organization that monitors end-of-life issues is worried the infamous “death panels” have been added back into the implication of the controversial ObamaCare health care law.

The so-called “death panels” came under fire when former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin used the phrase to describe the advance care planning consultations found in Section 1233 of the bill before the final version received Congressional approval. The infamous Section 1233 of HR 3200 would have federalized “voluntary” end-of-life “consultations,” and, in three states, had patients advised they could seek a legal assisted suicide.

The section was eventually dropped but the pro-life group LifeTree says the concerns are back again.

Last Monday, The Federal Register (page 73406) published a new funding rule for “voluntary” advance care planning consultations that changes Department of Health and Human Services regulation pertaining to Medicare and Medicaid patients, the group explains.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), headed by rationing advocate Donald Berwick, finalized its 2011 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule and rules implementing key provisions of the ObamaCare law. The final update adopts without change CMS’ proposed elements of the first and subsequent wellness visits; however, CMS added voluntary advance care planning as a new element to these annual visits.

Voluntary advance planning is defined as:

“Verbal or written information regarding the following areas: (1) An individual’s ability to prepare an advance directive in the case where an injury or illness causes the individual to be unable to make health care decisions[; and] (2) Whether or not the physician is willing to follow the individual’s wishes as expressed in an advance directive.”

“The new regulation states that advanced care planning consultations will now be offered (and funded) as part of the initial wellness visit for medicare patients and during all subsequent annual visits,” LifeTree says.

The group complains that media outlets did not mention anything about the changes all week last week after they were published.

“Has there been any media attention to this important change in health care coverage for all those receiving medicare and medicaid services?    You will recall the uproar about death panels, but this week funding for these consultation sessions became part of general government regulations without fanfare,” the group adds.

Ione Whitlock, the pro-life organization’s head researcher, is concerned about the changes because she believes they will be combined with legislation Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon is pushing — HR 5795 —  for programs to expand or enhance existing state programs for orders regarding life sustaining treatment (POLST).  

“One of the main goals of this legislation is to fully implement the POLST form into our health care system.   POLST stands for Physician’s Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment,” she says. “It comes in many flavors including MOST, MOLST, POST and TPOPP, depending on the location.”

“Blumenauer is the congressman most often associated with POLST  He is, incidentally, an advocate of legalized assisted suicide,” she adds. “Shortly before the election, Blumenauer told a radical pro-assisted suicide group that he had reintroduced what had been known as the “death panel” legislation.

Blumenauer complained that Section 1233 had been dropped due to “organized opposition” from “all of the Sarah-Palin-Fox-News-tin-foil-hat” people, but “it’s not stopping us from moving forward.”

Whitlock says. “Government funds will be used to educate “providers” who will work with the patients, their families and surrogates in filling out the POLST forms. They will learn the so-called “best practices” for discussing end-of-life care with dying patients and their loved ones.   These funds will ensure that the POLST forms are recorded electronically.”

Kathy Ostrowski, the legislative director for Kansas for Life, also commented on the new rules. [related]

“The Sebelius-led HHS is reinstating mandatory end-of-life counseling in the implementation of Obamacare,” she complained. “The new HHS rule requires mandatory counseling about advance directives–regardless of the physician’s inclination to agree to act upon those directives.”

“Therefore, Obamacare will pay physicians to deliver non-medical counseling (scripted undoubtedly by CPB) even when the directives conflict with the physician’s deeply held professional assessment and/or religious beliefs,” she added. “These are very dangerous developments.”