The New York Times reported over the weekend that under a new Medicare regulation beginning January 1, "the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment."
During the health care debate, the concept of end-of-life care was turned into a meme by opponents of the bill who erroneously claimed that government bureaucrats could decide whether to provide health care to the elderly, or "pull the plug on Grandma," as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) put it.
In reality the demonized provision would simply have compensated doctors for providing medical advice and counseling to patients regarding the options available to them at the end of life, including things like palliative care, hospice, and advance health care directives.
The Times also reported that Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who authored the original proposal, had sent an e-mail to supporters, urging them to downplay the provision so as not to reinvigorate the "death panels" meme. "We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists, even if they are 'supporters' -- e-mails can too easily be forwarded," the e-mail said.
[TPM PHOTO FEATURES: The Evolution Of The Death Panel Meme]
This week, in the wake of the Times piece, Fox News has devoted a big chunk of airtime to debating the new provision. Are they really "death panels?" Is "rationing" more accurate? Why were the Democrats so secretive?
Prominent health care-hater Betsy McCaughey was on Your World With Neil Cavuto, and said that the discussions about end-of-life care are "not simply being offered. First of all, [they're] being scripted." She continued that the talks would be "a drumbeat of 'spend less on your care', 'let's let you die sooner.'"
"This is the most deplorable case of Washington-knows best," she said.
Tucker Carlson, who has been filling in for Sean Hannity this week, described the new regulation as adhering to "the old idea if you can't legislate it, enforce it."
"There's a stealth factor here that suggests creepiness," he added later.
Watch the full segment:
Rep.-Elect Joe Walsh (R-IL) called it "outrageous" that they were "sneaking and sliding in this regulation her during a holiday week."
"This will lead toward rationing," Walsh went on. "We will get to the point where government, again through our tax dollars, will in essence encourage folks near the end of their lives to consider other options."
"We can't be naive to think that they slipped this in in the dead of night here, in between Christmas and New Years, because they thought it was a good thing," he added.
Fox Legal Analyst Peter Johnson Jr. called it "disturbing" that "after publicly walking away from it, and the President saying 'I'm not interested in having your granny die,' quietly, almost in a secret fashion, the federal government has come forth with this new regulation saying, 'it's not going to be every five years, it's going to be every year.'"
"Is this about patient autonomy, or is this about limiting cost, cost controls?" he asked. "Is the government saying to us, 'die sooner and reduce the debt,' or is the government saying to us, 'there is a better path in terms of your medical treatment?'"
Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor Bill Kristol agreed that the intent is for people to have end-of-life conversations with their doctors. But, he said, "the federal government's also giving the doctors an incentive to have that conversation by saying, 'you'll be reimbursed for this time,' and also perhaps giving an incentive to have a certain type of conversation."
"It's legitimate to be alarmed about," Kristol added.
And though Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer emphasized that "it's not a requirement, it's not an imposition, it's not a death panel," he did add: "It clearly is, for people who think about ultimately rationing in the end, a first step on the road."