Note: The above headline has been corrected.
In my AJC column today, a revised version of an earlier blog post, I walk through the role played by Sen. Johnny Isakson in the whole “death panel” dispute, including his discomfort at being cited by President Obama as one of the original backers of end-of-life planning.
The piece also reflects Isakson’s insistence that the amendment he proposed in the Senate health-care bill — language now stripped from the bill as a result of the controversy — was considerably different than that in the House bill.
“My Senate amendment simply puts health care choices back in the hands of the individual and allows them to consider if they so choose a living will or durable power of attorney,” Isakson said in a statement. “The House provision is merely another ill-advised attempt at more government mandates, more government intrusion, and more government involvement in what should be an individual choice.”
This morning, however, comes news that casts a new, more awkward light on the story. Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic points out that the Senate amendment originally proposed by Isakson was quite a bit different, and quite a bit more harsh, than that adopted in committee.
“Under its terms,” Cohn points out, “filling out an advanced directive would have been mandatory for all senior citizens. So if you turned 65 and failed (or refused) to file a living will, you simply wouldn’t be able to use Medicare.”
In the House language that has drawn such criticism, including from Isakson, the counseling would be entirely voluntary. But according to Cohn, Isakson wanted to make it mandatory, refusing to allow people to enroll in Medicare without an advanced directive.
Indeed, that is exactly what Isakson’s original language proposed:
“…an individual shall not be entitled to, or enrolled for, benefits under part A or enrolled under part B unless the individual has, in accordance with procedures established by the Secretary, provided proof to the Secretary that the individual has in effect an advance directive recognized under State law…the term ‘advance directive’ means a living will, medical directive, health care power of attorney, advance directive, or other written statement by a competent individual that is recognized under State law and indicates the individual’s wishes regarding medical treatment in the event of future incompetence. Such term includes an advance health care directive and a health care directive recognized under State law….”
Cohn reports that the language was watered down in committee only at the insistence of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat. If that version of events holds up, it’s surprising and a little disappointing as well. Isakson’s complaints about the House approach imposing “more government mandates, more government intrusion, and more government involvement in what should be an individual choice” take on a whole new meaning.