Aug. 29, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Let’s Drop the Demagoguery on ‘Death Panels’

There are significant savings to be had by opting to spend one’s last days in a hospice as opposed to an intensive care unit — perhaps $50 billion a year nationally — but the opportunity to choose is what’s even more important.

To liken a voluntary consultation to a “death panel” is pure demagoguery.

The issue of rationing is not so cut-and-dried. America already rations health care by income, by access to health insurance and regular medical visits.

Studies by the Institute of Medicine and the American Journal of Public Health indicate that lack of health insurance leads to 18,000 to 45,000 deaths each year.

And as Roll Call contributing writer Norman Ornstein pointed out in a recent Washington Post opinion piece, Medicaid cuts at the state level are increasingly leading to denials of care — notably organ transplants ­— creating true “death panel” situations.

One good way to cut America’s soaring health care costs is through research in health care delivery. As the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has shown, Medicare alone could have saved $50 billion from 2001 to 2005 if all hospitals across the United States were as efficient as the Mayo Clinic.

The new health care law should have created a full-blown national research institute for health care best practices. Congress still should do that.

Meantime, it would be far more effective to create a health care system in which patients were cost-conscious consumers, as opposed to having government agencies decree who will get what kind of care.

Theoretically, to save money under President Barack Obama’s health plan, an agency such as the independent body created under the law will make those decisions — but they will be reversible by Congress.

Obamacare won’t be repealed by Congress, as Republicans vow to try, but it can be improved. With any luck, the debate on how to do it will be conducted rationally. But maybe not.

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