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Our view: Gingrich still wrong about ‘death panels’

Our view: Gingrich still wrong about ‘death panels’


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Newt Gingrich

Former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, addresses Republican Party supporters in 2010 at the American Legion in Onalaska.

Give it up, Gingrich. Just when you think we’ve moved past the Sarah Palin death panel debacle of two years ago, Newt Gingrich brings the topic back to life.

Gingrich, during Tuesday night’s Republican candidate presidential debate, connected recent medical news that prostate cancer screening in men can have some dangerous side effects. Because the federal government may recommend that insurers must cover such screenings through the Affordable Care Act, Gingrich argued that the government will be involved in tests that are “basically going to kill people.”

“So, if you ask me, do I want some Washington bureaucrat to create a class action decision which affects every American’s last two years of life, not ever. I think it is a disaster. I think, candidly, Governor Palin got attacked unfairly for describing what would, in effect, be death panels.”

Let us repeat what has been said often but continues to lurk like an urban legend.

There is no provision in the Affordable Care Act that creates death panels.

Early versions of the law did contain provisions that would allow Medicare reimbursement to physicians for voluntary — not mandatory — discussions with patients about end-of-life planning. Unfortunately — no thanks to Palin and Gingrich and others who stirred the pot — that was dropped from the final legislation.

End-of-life planning means that doctors and patients discuss advanced health care directives. That empowers patients and their families to control and help direct the medical care at the end of life. Not only is it best for families, but it also helps control medical costs at the end of life, which is where 24 percent of all Medicare spending occurs.

Gingrich pulled this same shameful rhetorical act in 2009 when, after presenting a speech at Gundersen Lutheran and praising the institution for its advanced directive work, he put on his media face with reporters and said health reform had “a bias toward euthanasia for senior citizens and other people.”

La Crosse has been national leader in end-of-life planning, thanks to Gundersen Lutheran and Mayo Clinic Health System La Crosse. If more parts of the country followed our approach, billions of dollars could be saved.

The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, which everyone acknowledges. So let’s keep the focus on making it better, because doing nothing is not acceptable. Continuing to fan the flames of ignorance by thinking that we’re going to pull the plug on grandma is deceitful and nefarious.

It’s moot for Newt anyway. He will soon realize that the pending end-of-life decision he faces is when to pull the plug on his dying presidential aspirations.


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