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WASHINGTON - Former Gov. Sarah Palin refused to retreat from her debunked claim that a proposed health care overhaul would create "death panels," as the growing furor over end-of-life consultations forced a key group of senators to abandon the idea in their bill.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, one of six lawmakers negotiating on a Senate bill, said Thursday they had dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration "entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly."
In a Facebook posting titled "Concerning Death Panels," Palin argued Wednesday night that the elderly and ailing would be coerced into accepting minimal end-of-life care to reduce health care costs based on the Democratic bill in the House.
But there will be no "death panels" under the legislation being considered. In fact, the provision in the bill would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.
The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.
The American Medical Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization support the provision.
In her posting, Palin wrote: "With all due respect, it's misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients." She added, "It's all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing."
The issue is no longer viable for the six members of the Senate Finance Committee - three Republicans and three Democrats - working on a bipartisan bill, according to Grassley. In a statement, he criticized the House bill, saying there was a difference between a "simple education campaign, as some advocates want," and paying "physicians to advise patients about end-of-life care."
The provisions remain in the House bill.
Palin's posting came one day after Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said that Palin and other critics were not helping the GOP by tossing out false claims. Portions of the Democratic health care bills "are bad enough that we don't need to be making things up," Murkowski said, invoking a phrase that Palin used in her resignation speech, when she asked the news media to "quit making things up."
Murkowski said she was offended at the "death panel" terminology.
"There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill," she said.
Palin hasn't always been against end-of-life counseling. As governor, she signed a proclamation making April 16, 2008, Healthcare Decision Day with the goal to have health care professionals and others participate in a statewide effort to provide clear and consistent information about advance directives.
The proclamation noted that only about 20 percent of Alaskans, and 50 percent of severely or terminally ill patients, have an advance directive.
"It is likely that a significant reason for these low percentages is that there is both a lack of knowledge and considerable confusion in the public about advance directives," it said.
Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican who co-sponsored a similar measure in the Senate, said it was "nuts" to claim the bill encourages euthanasia.
And Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who authored the provision on end-of-life counseling, said he is astounded that Palin has not tempered her bleak descriptions of the health care bill.
"It's deliberate at this point," Blumenauer said. "If she wasn't deliberately lying at the beginning, she is deliberately allowing a terrible falsehood to be spread with her name."
He said the measure would block funds for counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option, calling references to death panels or euthanasia "mind-numbing."