By Mike Lillis - 09/18/10 01:16 PM EDT
Christine O'Donnell, the Tea-Party Republican vying to fill Joe Biden's Senate seat in Delaware, jumped head-first into the thorny healthcare debate this week, accusing Democratic policymakers of wanting to snuff out the old and infirm because they're expensive to treat.
"We've watched the tentacles of big government weasel their way into every part of our lives," O'Donnell told a conservative audience at the Values Voters Summit in Washington Friday.
"Bureaucrats and politicians in Washington think they should decide what kind of light bulbs we use, what kind of toilets we flush, what kind of car we drive. … They even want unelected panels of bureaucrats to decide who gets what life-saving medical care and who is just too old or it's too expensive to be worth saving."
The final reference is to a Democratic proposal to provide Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements to physicians who conduct voluntary consultations with patients about end-of-life care.
The proposal, which the House passed last year as part of its reform bill, stirred a great deal of debate after Sarah Palin claimed it would encourage the creation of "death panels," and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said it would empower the government to "pull the plug on grandma."
The issue has clear cost repercussions: Medicare last year paid roughly $55 billion to treat seniors during the last two months of their lives. But cost is not the only issue.
A study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that end-of-life care was shown to extend the lives of terminally ill lung-cancer patients by nearly three months. Moreover, the researchers discovered that those patients were happier and experienced less pain in their final weeks.
The report, said Diane E. Meier, director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, "shows that palliative care is the opposite of all that rhetoric about ‘death panels.'"
Grassley has argued that end-of-life counseling shouldn't occur when patients are on their death beds, but rather "20 years before."
In 2009, Politifact — the Pulitzer-Prize winning project of the St. Petersburg Times — named Palin's death panel claim its "lie of the year."