Cynical Manipulation

Our View: Sen. Cardin's Town Hall Meeting Showed That The Loudest Health Care Opponents Have No Interest In The Facts And Want To Kill Reform Rather Than Improve It

August 12, 2009

It's theoretically possible that some of the ordinary citizens who showed up at Monday night's town hall meeting about health care reform with Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin might actually think that the proposals under consideration include government-ordered euthanasia of the elderly. It's hard to believe that they have not seen any of the many concrete debunkings of this myth, and even harder to believe that they would imagine their fellow citizens who represent them in Congress and work in the federal government would be capable of such a thing. But it's theoretically possible that the jeering woman waving a "Let my parents live" sign outside the meeting was sincere.

Ellen Sauerbrey, on the other hand, should definitely know better. She has served in the government at the state and federal levels for the better part of the last 30 years and, moreover, knows Mr. Cardin personally - he was speaker of the House of Delegates when she was minority leader. She should know good and well that the mild-mannered Mr. Cardin is not the kind of person who would blithely kill off granny, and she's certainly sophisticated enough to find out the truth about what's being proposed. Yet there she sat in the audience at the meeting wearing a home-made button that read "euthanasia."

It's becoming increasingly clear that those who are protesting loudest about the health reform proposals being considered care little about the facts. But for what it's worth, here's what the reform proposals would actually do: They would allow Medicare to reimburse doctors for talking with patients and their families about end of life options, such as living wills and hospice care.

Rather than some ugly Orwellian conspiracy, this would shore up the very doctor-patient relationship that health reform opponents profess so much concern for maintaining. Under the current system by which we pay for health care, doctors are forced to spend little time talking with patients about anything except their chief complaint. Deeper, more nuanced discussions about health, secondary ailments and, yes, a patient's wishes for how he or she should be treated at the end of life, are given short shrift. The idea of reimbursing doctors for an activity that patients scream out for more of is one of the best elements of the health reform package, not its most terrible.

The fact that opponents would seize on that part of the health plan and twist it into something frightening leads inevitably to the conclusion that they are not interested in a genuine debate about how best to reform our health care system but are instead attempting to use whatever cynical exploitation of emotion they can muster to defeat it.

Ms. Sauerbrey, who nearly became governor, has tremendous standing in the community and a responsibility to elevate the debate. Based on her life's work in Maryland, she would be ideally suited to lead a discussion about the expense of the health reform proposals and whether they do enough to control costs. Instead, she and other opponents of the health reform proposals have chosen a cheap, snide attack that gives a bad name to all those who have honest misgivings about the plans under debate. Ms. Saurbrey, the people deserve better.

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