More Grassley and the “end of life” proposal

More developments on Senator Chuck Grassley's assertion that Americans "have every right to fear" a portion of a House health care reform bill..

First, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about Grassley's assertion today.  Below is the transcript of the exchange between Gibs and the White House press corps (note the questioner goes unnamed, while the quotations one would attribute to Mr. Gibbs are identified by a "MR. GIBBS").

Q Speaking of the Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley was at a town hall yesterday and brought up the issue of living wills. Has the White House reached out to him and —

MR. GIBBS: Not that — I don't —

Q — asked him why he chose to do this? Is this — does his comments at all jeopardize — in your mind jeopardize the bipartisanship that is — you're trying to —

MR. GIBBS: No, again, I — well —

Q Did you see his comments?

MR. GIBBS: I watched your newscast.

Q And what is your reaction to those comments?

MR. GIBBS: I would have him talk to Senator Murkowski, who said, just in case you didn't — I didn't see it; it wasn't on your newscast — but "It does us no good to incite fear in people by saying that there is these end-of-life provisions, these death panels. Quite honestly, I'm so offended at that terminology because it absolutely isn't in the bill. There's no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill." That I think would be my — I'd paraphrase that response.

Q And that's what you'd want to say to Senator Grassley?

MR. GIBBS: Yes, I mean, I think, again, that's what Senator Murkowski said —

Q But in your mind this doesn't jeopardize the bipartisanship right now?

MR. GIBBS: No, I think we're continuing to — obviously the President is continuing to talk to lawmakers and hope that the Finance Committee can come to some agreement.

….Q Robert, I want to follow up on what Chuck was asking about Senator Grassley, because — so he's the top senator on the Senate Finance Committee. The President has talked to him. The President wants a bipartisan bill. And yet, Senator Grassley came out and said no public plan option, no way, no how. He won't vote for a bill on it. And yesterday, he had a chance to clarify this death penalty thing, and instead he jumped on it and said people have a right —

MR. GIBBS: Death panel.

Q Death panel, sorry. That people have a right to be — the right to be afraid of it? So I mean, do you really — can you still count seriously Chuck Grassley as an ally in getting your health care bill passed?

MR. GIBBS: I still think there is the possibility of getting bipartisan agreement through the Finance Committee in order to make progress on a piece of legislation that can pass the Senate, yes.

Q With Senator Grassley's support in particular?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Senator Grassley, Senator Enzi, Senator Snowe are obviously the three Republican senators that are involved in this. We again will hope to quell the misconceptions that are apparently held even by some in the Senate about what the bill is and what the bill isn't. But we'll continue to hope that they can make progress. Now, whether or not it happens, you know, I don't know.

Q Robert.

Q He just seems to be playing "rope a dope" with the White House, leading you along and then slamming you down.

MR. GIBBS: Well, we'll — I guess we'll see about that.

…Q Robert, Senator Grassley did, yesterday, specifically ask the White House or the President to say he's willing to sign a bill that doesn't have a public option. Is that something the President is willing to say?

MR. GIBBS: The President is willing — the President is willing and will — and wants to sign a bill that has adequate choice and competition for those that enter the private insurance market. Understand, again, the concept of this option was to provide exactly that, an option in an otherwise closed private insurance market that in some areas and different parts of the country that are dominated by — might be dominated by only a couple, or in some instances only one insurance company that's offering the ability for coverage on a private insurance market.

The option of an additional plan is to simply provide some choice and competition to a group of people that can only get insurance that way, because their employer doesn't provide it, they don't work, or what have you.

Q So you're saying there needs to be a public option?

MR. GIBBS: I'm saying there needs to be a mechanism that appropriately institutes choice and competition in a private insurance market that is normally, or can be at times, very narrow and closed in order for those concepts to impact people's ability to buy quality health insurance.

Next, Senator Grassley's office issued a statement:

Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Committee on Finance, today made the following comment on end-of-life concerns and other concerns prompted by the House committee-passed health care legislation.

“The bill passed by the House committees is so poorly cobbled together that it will have all kinds of unintended consequences, including making taxpayers fund health care subsidies for illegal immigrants. On the end-of-life issue, there’s a big difference between a simple educational campaign, as some advocates want, and the way the House committee-passed bill pays physicians to advise patients about end of life care and rates physician quality of care based on the creation of and adherence to orders for end-of-life care, while at the same time creating a government-run program that is likely to lead to the rationing of care for everyone. On the Finance Committee, we are working very hard to avoid unintended consequences by methodically working through the complexities of all of these issues and policy options. That methodical approach continues.  We dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly. Maybe others can defend a bill like the Pelosi bill that leaves major issues open to interpretation, but I can’t.”

Then, Congessman Bruce Braley (D-Waterloo, Iowa), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued a response to Grassley's response.

Braley Statement on Continuing Misinformation on End-of-Life Care in House Healthcare Reform Bill

Washington, DC – Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) released the following statement in response to additional comments by Senator Charles Grassley today regarding optional end-of-life care coverage in the House healthcare reform bill.  Grassley made the comments in a memo to reporters distributed this afternoon.

"If Senator Grassley was as methodical in reading the House healthcare reform plan as he has been in spreading ridiculous claims about it, he would have no doubt seen that the bill provides more choices—not less—for patients who wish to discuss end-of-life care with their doctors.  I’m disappointed that Senator Grassley is continuing to repeat these falsehoods about the healthcare reform bill.  We must have a rational discussion on healthcare reform, not one based on fear.”

As a reminder, numerous organizations have debunked as false the claim that under the healthcare reform bill, the government would make end-of-life decisions on behalf of seniors:

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.