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Three Low Points in the Health Reform Debate

Les Masterson, for HealthLeaders Media, August 26, 2009

Harken back to the good old days of healthcare reform, if you will. It was June 2009 and America's Health Insurance Plans, American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, the White House, Republicans, and Congressional Democrats all preached the idea of collaboration.

Those were great times way back in June as all the stakeholders hopped in their Volkswagen bus of rhetoric and headed off to Woodstock. Now, two months later, the bus is broken down on the New York Thruway and the peace and love is over.

That Era of Good Feelings has been replaced with anger, hurt feelings, and—surprise, surprise—lies, half-truths, and partisan bickering. There have been plenty of low points over the past two months, but here are three that I think have especially turned a productive health reform debate into a political campaign full of fear-mongering and name-calling:

Death panels
The person who forever damaged the healthcare debate isn't an elected official, policymaker, or healthcare leader. Sarah Palin has spent the past year in the media glare since John McCain selected her as vice president. But by the time she composed her Facebook message about "death panels" Palin had already resigned as governor of Alaska.

Her Facebook entry was the turning point in the healthcare reform debate.

"The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil," she wrote.

Death panels or anything remotely similar to that notion, however, are not in the House reform plan. Instead, it's a provision that would allow Medicare to pay for end-of-life consultations with patients. This provision is merely a way to reimburse doctors to help patients make choices before they reach a point in which they cannot make decisions for themselves.

The debate took a further downward spiral when health reform opponents began comparing the Democrats' health plan to Nazism. Nothing will end civil discourse faster than comparing a plan to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

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