'Death panels' needed, ex-Treasury official says

WASHINGTON (BP) -- The United States must ration health care for the elderly through the use of "death panels," a former Obama administration adviser is saying, but other experts disagree.

Steven Rattner's "cavalier attitude about 'death panels' is simply breathtaking," C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., said after a New York Times opinion piece by Rattner in mid-September.

"What he [Rattner] and the Obama administration don't grasp is that Americans will not tolerate a rationing system like Canada's or the U.K.'s -- they are not going to wait three years for surgery or abandon their loved ones at 70 years old." Mitchell told Baptist Press. "If the sleeping giant is roused, the gut-wrenching decisions Americans will make will be in the voting booth."

Rattner's New York Times commentary began with: "We need death panels." As the article contined, the former Treasury Department adviser made it clear he was endorsing the rationing of healthcare for the elderly. The Independent Payment Advisory Board, or the "death panel," as some call it, "should be allowed to offer changes in services and costs," Rattner wrote.

The term "death panel" refers to an independent 15-member panel assigned with cutting health care spending and evaluating medical services and was first used in 2009 by former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Creation of the panel was included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called "Obamacare"), which was enacted by Congress in 2010 but does not go into effect until 2014. The panel will determine which health care costs are necessary and which should be downsized. Downsizes could directly affect the elderly as they approach the end of life if their care is deemed not worth the cost. These experts must make the "stomach-wrenching choices," Rattner said.

The real solution, however, is not rationing but changing the type of care, said Jim Capretta, a fellow at the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. The United States' care for its elderly is severely lacking, but it should be more efficient in organizing care rather than rationing key resources, Capretta said, warning that the U.S. should never go near the heavy-handed health care that Rattner congratulates Great Britain for using, Capretta said.

Britain's rationing provides less expensive health care than U.S. care, but the results are less promising, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). Britain's five-year survival rate for patients with colon cancer is 36 percent, while in the United States it is 60 percent, NRLC said. Drawing from a BBC News report, NRLC also said 55 percent of Britons diagnosed with cancer never get to see a cancer specialist. These restrictions are primarily caused by the British government's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which refuses to approve mainline drugs commonly used in the United States, according to NRLC.

As a proponent of state-controlled and state-administered heath systems, Rattner believes the United States should mirror countries with such policies, Capretta said. The current health care law that allows rationing is dangerous, he said.

"Before the country ever even begins the conversation like the kind [Rattner] wants to have, we should fix how we're giving services to the patients, and then see where we are," Capretta told Baptist Press.


Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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