Ugly Rumors, Uglier Truths

Healthcare reform has become possibly the most pressing issue on the Obama administration’s agenda. For the most part, both sides agree the present system should be changed, and that previous reforms have been nothing more than immediate responses to unique conditions as they have arisen. It is a debate that has been characterized by serious misunderstandings, partisan remarks and rumor spreading in congress.
The most recent of these rumors is highlighted in a hypothetical future situation former vice president candidate Sarah Palin presented on her Facebook page. In a brief post describing her fears about the policies in “the nationalized heath care plan that the current administration is rushing through congress,” Palin theorized about a panel of bureaucrats deciding the fate of her child with down syndrome based on the child’s assessed level of productivity.
“The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”
It has since widely been affirmed that there is no provision for any such panel in any of the reforms proposed. The rumor stems from a mangled mix of the same partisan pundits who helped defeat the Clinton-era reforms, and ideas that the Obama administration supports a pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia program, and mixed-up accounts of legislation to provide for hospice care and “end of life” services. The debate the falsehood has sparked may be much more interesting that the rumor itself.
For me personally, the most shocking stories and the ones that tend to move me to push for serious reforms fast are the tales of woe from those who’ve experienced first-hand the horrors of managed care in a capitalist system. Those witout coverage, and those who believed their coverage was more than adequate, only to learn their provider would not support the treatment they needed. The Michael Moore film “Sicko” told several of these stories but presented one more interesting tale from a different perspective.
Linda Peeno was a physician in the Louisville area when she started working in managed care. Over time she came to be a medical reviewer for the Humana Group, later medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield. In 1996 Linda gave horrifying testimony to congress about the pitfalls of managed care, and the Death Panels that were more than just partisan rumors. Peeno’s ‘96 testimony:
“I wish to begin by making a public confession: In the spring of 1987, as a physician, I caused the death of a man.

Although this was known to many people, I have not been taken before any court of law or called to account for this in any professional or public forum. In fact, just the opposite occurred: I was “rewarded” for this. It bought me an improved reputation in my job, and contributed to my advancement afterwards. Not only did I demonstrate I could indeed do what was expected of me, I exemplified the “good” company doctor: I saved a half million dollars.”
The idea that partisans inside and outside of congress would perpetuate such rumors as one about proposed ‘Death Panels’ is sad and it continues to widen the gap between both sides and delay any reform. The audacity of the rumor surpasses the shortsightedness politically into the territory of outright manipulation. As Peeno testified, her decision, or likely, decisions, saved the company $500,000, and that’s just the one time. Her organization stood to avoid losses of millions when medical boards denied coverage, where any such board—“Death Panel”—in the Obama plan would stand only to lose credibility and risk losing favor in public opinion.
I’d take a ‘Death Panel’ that answers to the people, rather than one that responds only to monetary incentives, any day.


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