Republicans Probe “Death Panels” Added, Removed From Obamacare

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 15, 2011   |   4:46PM   |   Washington, DC

The top Republican on the House committee charged with health care oversight is planning an investigation of the inclusion and subsequent removal of the controversial “death panels” from the Obamacare health care law.

Under the regulations the Obama administration put in place in December, doctors would instruct patients in the annual “voluntary” exams to write “advance directives listing the kind of treatment they wish to receive or not receive if they are unable to make their own medical decisions. After considerable pro-life backlash from those who worried physicians would pressure or persuade patients to make decisions that would ration care or withdraw lifesaving medical treatment, the Obama administration removed them from the regulations implementing Obamacare.

Though Obama administration officials cited procedural reasons for the decision, the New York Times indicated political considerations — the enormous outpouring of opposition — played a role.

Now, according to a new report in the Daily Caller, Rep. Fred Upton and three members of the Energy and Commerce Committee are investigating the situation. They wrote a letter on March 14 to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying her decision to add the panels
“without notice or public comment” shows “there appear to be no limits to [Sebelius’s] power” under Obamacare.

The letter, according to the conservative news web site, requests a briefing from Sebelius’ office on how the decision was made and for the briefing to take place between March 21 and 25.

“We hope to learn what the department’s internal discussions were regarding this provision, and to learn how it was surreptitiously inserted and what can be done in the future to guarantee that the administration will not try to usurp Congressional prerogatives,” the letter says.

“We are very disturbed by your actions,” the letter continues. “it is clear that end-of-life regulations would not make it through Congress or survive a public debate during the rulemaking process, and were thus dropped into the final rule without allowing the public any opportunity to comment,” it says. “The secrecy surrounding their inclusion in the final rule indicates that this was a political maneuver designed to avoid public scrutiny and comment.”

Reps. Joe Pitts, Cliff Stearns, and Phil Gingery, all pro-life advocates and with Pitts and Stearns having positions as subcommittee chairmen, joined Chairman Upton in co-writing the letter.

Donald Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, who is in charge of implementing ObamaCare but came under heavy criticism for his pro-rationing views, issued the “death panel” regulations. Democrats have subsequently given up on confirming him for the position because of strong opposition in the Senate.

Leading pro-life groups highlighted concerns about the death panels, including Burke Balch, director of National Right to Life’s Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, who warned, “The danger is that subsidized advance care planning will not just discover and implement patient treatment preferences but rather be used to nudge or pressure older people to agree to less treatment because that is less expensive.”

The death panels initially 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.