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Senate committee scraps healthcare provision that gave rise to 'death panel' claims

Though the claims are widely discredited, the Senate Finance Committee is withdrawing from its bill the inclusion of advance care planning consultations, calling them too confusing.

August 14, 2009|Christi Parsons and Andrew Zajac

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel has decided to scrap the part of its healthcare bill that in recent days has given rise to fears of government "death panels," with one lawmaker suggesting the proposal was just too confusing.

The Senate Finance Committee is taking the idea of advance care planning consultations with doctors off the table as it works to craft its version of healthcare legislation, a Democratic committee aide said Thursday.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the committee, said the panel dropped the idea because it could be "misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly."

For Democrats, the decision was an apparent acknowledgment that the provision had become a lightning rod for critics of a proposed overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system. Democratic lawmakers and President Obama are trying to extend health insurance to more people, rein in health costs and make other changes.

Recently, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin speculated that Obama and other Democrats wanted to set up "death panels" to decide who gets medical services and who does not.

In reality, the provision was designed to allow Medicare to pay doctors who counsel patients about planning for end-of-life decisions. The consultations would be voluntary and would provide information about living wills, healthcare proxies, pain medication and hospice.

A similar provision remains in legislation that was passed by three House committees last month, and the idea could remain on the table when lawmakers move toward agreement on a final bill.

Legislation passed by the Senate's health committee does not include the consultation measure.

The Palin claim about "death panels" was so widely discredited that the White House has begun openly quoting it in an effort to show that opponents of the healthcare overhaul are misinformed.

On Thursday, Obama's chief spokesman volunteered the "death panels" charge as the biggest misconception about healthcare legislation.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs also called attention to comments from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Palin's home state of Alaska, who recently complained about the "death panel" claim.

"It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there's these end-of-life provisions, these death panels," Murkowski told a crowd this week. "Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology, because it absolutely isn't" in the bill.

Still, a week after first using the term on her Facebook page, Palin defended her claim this week with a new posting. And senators on the finance committee decided to get rid of the provision that appeared to be animating the claim.

"The finance committee is not discussing end-of-life provisions as part of our healthcare reform negotiations, and such provisions were never a major focus of finance committee discussions," said the Democratic committee aide, who requested anonymity when discussing congressional deliberations.

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cparsons@latimes.com

azajac@latimes.com

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