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Dr. Berwick and Death Panels

John on December 29, 2010 at 1:41 pm

The Wall Street Journal has a very balanced piece on the controversy:

In July, the White House bypassed the Senate to recess appoint Dr. Berwick, who has since testified before Congress for all of two hours, and now he promulgates by fiat a reimbursement policy that Congress explicitly rejected, all while scheming with his political patrons to duck any public scrutiny.

But if Dr. Berwick’s methods are troubling, the substance is more than defensible. Certain quarters on the political right are following the media’s imagination and blasting Dr. Berwick’s decision as the tangible institution of death panels. But the rule-making is not coercive and gives seniors more autonomy, not less.

I agree completely. End of life counseling, as it stands, is not death panels and is probably a good idea so long as the counselors aren’t pushing people to make choices they otherwise wouldn’t make. But the Journal goes on to say:

The real death panel myth is that the term ever had anything to do with something so potentially beneficial. We wrote at the time that Sarah Palin’s coinage was sensationalistic, but it was meant to illustrate a larger truth about a world of finite resources and infinite entitlement wants.

Under highly centralized national health care, the government inevitably makes cost-minded judgments about what types of care are “best” for society at large, and the standardized treatments it prescribes inevitably steal life-saving options from individual patients. This is precisely why many liberals like former White House budget director Peter Orszag support government-run health care to control costs: Technocrats in government can then decide who gets Avastin for cancer, say, and who doesn’t.

As I reported here in August, we are already seeing some novel moves by the FDA on expensive drugs. If you want to see what nationalized care looks like for the elderly all you have to do is read this litany of horrors.

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