Mike Stopa: The Reality of Death Panels

In a piece at the Boston Globe, Mike Stopa explores Governor Palin’s metaphoric use of the term "death panels" and concludes that she was exactly right, given the rationing required in any socialized health care system. Stopa also describes how the price controls contained in Obamacare will necessarily stifle the innovation required to develop new, life-saving pharmaceuticals.  Excerpts follow:

Supporters of President Obama’s health care reform law have relentlessly derided Sarah Palin’s notion of “death panels’’ as a vulgar rhetorical technique, with no basis in reality, devised merely to scare a gullible, uneducated citizenry into rallying to repeal the law. The death panel notion persists, however, because it denotes, in a pithy way, the economic realities of scarcity inherent in nationalizing a rapidly developing, high-technology industry on which people’s lives depend in a rather immediate way. G.K. Chesterton once wrote that vulgar notions (and jokes) invariably contain a “subtle and spiritual idea.’’ The subtle and spiritual idea behind “death panels’’ is that life-prolonging medical technology is an expensive, limited commodity and if the market doesn’t determine who gets it, someone else will.

In December, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued a regulation, since rescinded by the Obama administration, that would have allowed doctors to be reimbursed for “voluntary advanced care’’ planning. When the regulation was publicized, it resulted in a renewed outcry that such end-of-life planning provisions presage the inevitable death panels of ObamaCare.

[…]

The resistance to incorporating end-of-life planning into Medicare is based on the rational fear that such planning will be used to coax patients into forgoing life-extending technologies that Medicare administrators may deem risky, of marginal benefit, or unlikely to succeed — an estimation that could be based in part on the cost of the technology.

[…]

To the extent that ObamaCare ultimately succeeds in imposing uniformity on basic health care, it will likely lead to the creation of secondary markets for providing insurance against various health eventualities and access to “heroic’’ procedures to extend life. Water runs downhill and it’s a good thing that it does. First, we need to have people buy the expensive medicines and experimental technologies. Europe has discovered this as its regulated system of medicine has driven its pharmaceutical industry farther and farther behind that of the United States. Capping costs kills innovation.

But, in addition, Palin is right. Death panels are an inevitable consequence of socialized medicine. The law of scarcity demands them.

Indeed it does. Read the rest of Stopa’s piece here.



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