THE TREATMENT AUGUST 18, 2009
Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell has written yet another column attacking the Obama administration--and advisor Ezekiel Emanuel in particular--for trying to impose harsh rationing the sick and elderly. I normally wouldn’t take Sowell’s columns on this seriously. But Sarah Palin, who quoted him in one of her now-infamous Facebook posts, does. And I think it’s safe to assume that we haven’t heard the last of the “death panel” charge, whether it’s a reference to advisory boards that might set Medicare payment policy or to provisions that would pay for seniors to get voluntary counseling sessions on end-of-life planning.
But not all conservative make such ludicrous arguments--or even have patience for them.
Stuart Butler is vice president for domestic and economic policy studies at the Heritage Foundation. Gail Wilensky is an economist at Project Hope. Both have impeccable conservative bona fides. Both are influential within Republican circles. (Wilensky was a health care advisor to the McCain campaign.)
I mentioned the pair in a previous post, describing them as serious intellectuals with whom a liberal like me can have a respectful, if still energetic, debate. I heard from each of them shortly thereafter. Butler wrote in an e-mail:
These personal attacks on good people like Zeke are outrageous. There are real policy issues that should be debated vigorously, but slandering a good person’s name is beyond the pale.
I have said as clearly as I know how that this "panel of death" characterization is just untrue. It is an attempt to empower seniors to make known their views about a terminal illness if they wish to do so and extends the current practice of providing hospice care and requiring nursing homes and hospitals to indicate in a patient's record if they have an advance directive. This just allows physicians and other health care providers to get paid for a visit if the senior wants to have the discussion.
I was shocked by the comments about Zeke. I have been on many panels with him; these excerpted quotes don't sound like anything I had ever heard him say.
To be clear, Butler and Wilensky have plenty of qualms about reform. Serious qualms. Wilensky noted that she’s dubious the government could find $500 to $600 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings without reducing the services available to seniors. She also opposes the public plan option. (Butler, I'm pretty sure, does too.)
But the arguments they make are worth taking and debating seriously, which is more than you can say for what we're hearing from the likes of Sowell and Palin. If Butler and Wilensky were the voices of the opposition, we’d have a much more enlightened debate--and, who knows, maybe even a better reform bill.