Friday, August 21, 2009
I feel dirty, I need a shower, I may have to kill myself. Where are the death panels when you need them?
So Jon Stewart interviewed Betsy McCaughey last night, on The Daily Show. She's the one credited with raising alarms about the dastardly implications in the health care bill regarding end of life counseling. "Death panels," evidently, wasn't her exact term. "Disgusting," is what she said she wrote in the margins when reading it.
There was a point to which she kept returning (in between quite amazing dramatic gestures to the audience -- the kind when a stand-up comedian goes, "Am I right? Am I right? Huh? Huh?"). Medicare reimbursement is increasingly tied to performance standards, and it's an issue about which I've written a bit, and which, in its execution, is potentially problematic for all doctors. Nevertheless, her interpretation regarding end of life counseling was utterly, idiotically, cosmically ass backwards. Can you get it that wrong by mistake? Or must you be a willful liar? The lady, after all, was Lieutenant Governor of New York for a moment, which likely puts her in the upper four-fifths of the population in intelligence.
Doctors, she said, will be reimbursed, in part, based on the percentage of their patients who are given end of life counseling. Okay. And, she said, it will also depend on the percentage of cases in which the wishes were carried out. It's at that point that she went off the rails so grandly that, had I not been paralyzed with disbelief, I'd have reached for the remote. And shoved it up my nose. Aiming for my brain.
Her interpretation -- this former politico and self-styled patient advocate -- is that doctors get dinged if their patients change their minds. Really. That's what she said and, apparently, believes. (Okay, she may not believe it: she is, after all, a Republican hack trying to derail health care reform.) You sign an advance directive, that's it. No changes. Any doctor who allows changes gets penalized by THE GOVERNMENT. The lady is an idiot. And, sadly, Jon Stewart didn't call her on it.
Here's the thing: advance directives are for the time when you can no longer make your own decisions. By definition, that means as long as you have the ability, you can change your mind any time you want. In the hospital. In the ICU. Anywhere, anytime. Advance directives are not in effect until you are no longer able to express your wishes. What the bill is doing is making sure doctors follow the patients' expressed wishes when they're no longer able to express them. If a patient has said they want everything done, the doctors must do so. If they've said they don't want to be put on breathing machines, the doctors must honor that request.
It's about following the patients' request. It's about protecting the wishes of patients. I repeat myself. But the lady blew my mind. She couldn't understand her way out of a paper bag.
So this is where we are. This is the level of debate. In a matter as important as this, it's really appalling and disheartening to watch. It's not as if the issues aren't worth discussing. Tying reimbursement to adherence to certain standards is a tricky issue. But if we're going to have the discussion, let's have it with at least a toe still attached to the fundaments. Same with advance directives.
As long as people like that lady get air time without proper rebuttal (in fact, as long as idiocy that deep gets air time at all), we'll never have the kinds of discussions that we need. And deserve.