The Globe’s Susan Milligan reports today on the attempt by Republicans to tag Harvard professor Donald Berwick as a death merchant. Berwick runs a research program that looks at ways to cut waste and improve health care services. He is up for the job as head of The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, an agency that has the power to make major changes in the way health care is funded and delivered.
… GOP’s senators are making it clear they plan to turn Berwick’s confirmation hearings into a forum for continuing debate over the newly-minted health care overhaul law. Republicans believe hammering at the law will help them win seats in the fall’s midterm elections.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor last night that Berwick is an “expert on rationing.’’
By lauding the United Kingdom’s National Health System, McConnell said, Berwick “is applauding a system where care is delayed, denied, or rationed.’’
At one time, only insurance companies and hosptials balked at changes in the way we pay for care. The social conservatives stuck to abortion. Now, all that has changed. For more on that see the November 30 issue of The New Yorker for a story on the Karen Ann Quinlan case — “The Politics of Death.” Jill Lepore talks about how a hospital ethics panel had to decide whether the comatose women could ever recover. As she put it “These ethics committees are now better known as death panels.”
The New Yorker has a pay wall so if you don’t have a subscriptions, it’s off to the library. You can read the abstract first.
The Quinlan case marked a fundamental shift in American political history: in the decades since Quinlan, all manner of domestic-policy issues have been recast as matters of life and death—urgent, uncompromising, and absolute. Mentions Pope Paul VI’s “Of Human Life” and the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Two years later, the Quinlan case brought the end of life into the halls of government. In the wake of Roe and Quinlan, a very small but by no means inconsequential number of people have come to believe that Congress, the President, the courts, and assorted unnamed bureaucrats are plotting to deny medical care to the very sick and the very old, to babies born with deformities, to the elderly and infirm, to the ailing and the poor, to the disabled and insane. Most recently this conspiracy theory hijacked health-care reform.