Dems use personal touch to sell healthcare

Democrats seem to have a new strategy for fighting the “death panel” charges about healthcare reform legislation. They’re telling their personal stories.

In doing so, they’re following the example of President Barack Obama, who got personal Saturday in invoking his grandmother’s death last year.

ADVERTISEMENT
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (N.D.) followed on Sunday, as they both used family stories to illustrate the need for government-funded meetings with doctors when navigating the terminal illness of a loved one.

Sebelius, on ABC’s “This Morning,” recalled how her mother, Mary Kathryn Dixon, spent two and a half months in three separate hospitals before her death. Physicians were “in and out of the room” constantly, Sebelius recalled, leaving little room for private thought.

“I can tell you it was the most agonizing, most painful, most terrible time for not only me and my siblings but for my dad,” Sebelius said.

Conrad, one of the six senators on the Finance Committee trying to find a bipartisan compromise on healthcare, recalled his sister-in-law’s death last month from ovarian cancer in talking about end-of-life consultations.

“End-of-life counseling was very, very valuable to the family, very important,” Conrad said.

He described the consultations as vital and signaled support for extending Medicare coverage to the talks, as long as they are not required.

“The people at hospice were -- really treated her with loving care. But there should be no mandatory requirement,” he said.

Healthcare bills in the House would extend Medicare coverage to end-of-life consultations, but it’s unclear whether they’ll be included in a final Senate product.

Sebelius said she still hoped the provision would be included in a final bill, but Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said last week they would be left out.

The fight over the issue heated up after former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin entered the fray with a posting on her Facebook page. She assailed the Democratic healthcare efforts as a step toward “death panels” that would force euthanasia on the elderly and disabled.

Republicans such as Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) ridiculed the notion of death panels; Isakson called it “nuts.”

But Palin and others haven’t backed down, and have argued that Obama’s healthcare plans could lead to situations where medical resources are cut back to certain patients as part of an effort to reduce costs.

Obama, at a town hall in Colorado on Saturday, recalled his grandmother’s death last year just days before the November election. Madelyn Dunham, who raised Obama in Hawaii while his mother studied overseas, died on Nov. 2 after a battle with osteoporosis and cancer. The president invoked Dunham in response to conservative criticism that such consultations would lead to “death panels.”

“I just lost my grandmother last year. I know what it's like to watch somebody you love who's aging deteriorate, and have to struggle with that,” Obama said. “But the notion that somehow I've run for public office or members of Congress are in this so they can go around pulling the plug on Grandma? When you start making arguments like that, that's simply dishonest.”

Sebelius fired away on Sunday, saying those making the death panel charges are misconstruing the issue.

“What every family wants is good information and an ability to make a decision that suits their loved ones the best way that the family is involved and engaged,” she said.

“Nothing could be further from the truth that there's somehow a death panel. I've been through it personally with a mother who was very ill at the end of her life, and just having that kind of conversation and consultation... was very helpful.”