Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Parents of disabled children who oppose President Obama's health care reform say it would lead to rationing

From The AP:

WASHINGTON — A group of parents who oppose President Barack Obama's plan for revamping health care said Tuesday it would lead to rationing for children with life-threatening disabilities. National advocates for the disabled immediately rejected the claim that echoed this summer's dispute over "death panels."

The parents voiced their concerns at a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol that was hosted by two Republican lawmakers.

However, officials at Easter Seals and the Autism Society said the legislation would improve services for disabled children. About 40 groups that advocate for disabled people signed a letter in support of the House Democratic bill in July.

The charges and responses echoed the earlier controversy over whether the Democratic legislation encourages euthanasia for frail elderly patients. Critics, including 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, said it would lead to the creation of death panels. Independent experts who examined the bill language said those charges were baseless.

The children's' issue surfaced as lawmakers push toward the last committee vote before health care legislation goes to the floor of the House and Senate.

The parents who spoke at Tuesday's news conference were introduced by Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, R-Wash., and Trent Franks, R-Ariz. The lawmakers stopped short of endorsing specific criticisms, but said the parents' concerns are valid.

"These are concerns that need to be addressed in health care reform," said McMorris-Rodgers.

Kristan Hawkins, whose seven-month-old son Gunner has cystic fibrosis, said "it is inevitable that this system will lead to a government takeover of health care." She said the government would create committees that tell doctors how to practice medicine, and that pressure to hold down costs — magnified by a public insurance plan — would create a climate in which the disabled are denied care.

Hawkins, from Martinsburg, W.Va., has set up a Web site,, to reach out to other parents of disabled children and gather their worries about the legislation. The Web site is also sponsored by Students for Life of America, which opposes abortion and euthanasia.

Some parents at the news conference held up pictures of their children. Of the 11 parents, two came from Canada, and they said that country's government-run system routinely puts costs above quality. A mother from Riverhead, N.Y., brought her teen daughter in a wheelchair.

"It doesn't matter that rationing is not 'spelled out' in the bill," said Jeanne Bolewitz of Rochester Hills, Mich. "Rationing will happen."

If it does, "our children with medical issues will lose their 'personhood' and will be reduced to dollar amounts," she said. Her son, Joshua, has Down syndrome.

But Jeff Sell, vice president for advocacy at the Autism Society, said: "I have seen nothing in the legislation that would lead to rationing of care for children with disabilities."

Sell, whose twin 14-year-old sons have autism, said the bill would improve care by eliminating annual and lifetime limits on coverage, as well as coverage exclusions for pre-existing health problems.

And while it's true that the legislation would create new bureaucracies and spawn several levels of federal advisory committees, they would all be subject to public scrutiny and congressional oversight, a fact Sell said the parents at the news conference seemed to be overlooking.

"I am having a hard time following their logic of jumping to the negative instead of seeing possibilities," said Sell.

A top official at Easter Seals said the government-prescribed benefits criticized by the parents' group could actually improve things for people with disabilities.

Katy Neas, vice president for government relations, said the House Democratic bill and the Senate health committee legislation would require insurance plans to cover rehabilitation for the disabled, as well as training in new skills and medical equipment such as wheelchairs and other devices.

The bipartisan Senate Finance Committee bill — expected to be unveiled Wednesday — does not require the same level of coverage, but Neas said she expects an effort to change that during committee deliberations and floor debate.

"We see this as a way of expanding the opportunity for families to get the services their child needs, not to ration services," Neas said.