Thursday, August 6, 2009


There are some things about Sandy Szwarc's blog "Junkfood Science" that I really like -- but where the public option for health care reform is concerned, she's gone off the deep end.

"An ongoing debate has been unfolding among the public and medical professionals about whether the healthcare reform bill really requires mandatory counseling for every senior that will steer them to make advance healthcare decisions that could end their lives sooner, perhaps in order to lower healthcare costs."

This immediately makes my nostrils dilate, as if I have smelled fresh feces in strong sunlight. What she is opposed to is counseling? And is it even possible to force anyone into counseling outside of the legal system? I don't see any words like 'mandatory' in the legislation she quotes -- the only use of 'shall' I see is one that describes what counseling session 'shall' include, and I certainly don't see an enforcement mechanism -- i.e., what happens if people don't go. She claims that they will be identified as "noncompliant", which doesn't sound so bad to me.

While we're asking questions, though, who are "the public and medical professionals" that Sandy is talking about? They're debating, you say? Who exactly are those professionals? After a long excerpt from the legislation, she name-drops the "Bioethics Defense Fund" (I won't link you to them, because I find them pretty lame), which is an anti-stem cell, anti-choice, anti-cloning outfit that seems to be made up of as many lawyers as it is doctors. Any "Ethics Defense Fund" worth paying attention to doesn't resort to lame tactics like calling American health reform "Obamacare" or sponsoring bills to avoid "Octomom abuses". She also dings Wesley J. Smith, who works for the pro-intelligent design Discovery Institute. I would expect, if health legislation threatened the individual right to life, to see real organizations like the ACLU or the Catholic Church to step in -- not these ultra-right think tanks.

But they're not wasting their time, because this fear and outrage is just made up. Seniors will benefit greatly from the public option -- from not having to change doctors like they do now during the transition to Medicaid, from not being targeted by greedy and unethical 'additional insurance' scams, and most of all, from cheaper drugs whose cost is driven down by the government's ability to negotiate prices.

In any event, the shrill, alarmist tone, completely weak argument (Counseling! The horror!), and constant dependence on untrustworthy source material all lead me to sadly pin the first Medal of Gunk on the lapel of "Junkfood Science".

Image courtesy of: / CC BY-SA 2.0

POSTSCRIPT: The people at Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact look into claims similar to those that Szwarc makes and find them to be unequivocally false.


  1. "Gunk" has always been one of my favorite words. I am equally ambivalent about Sandy. I suppose one strong opinion begets another - so at least she is consistent.

    I will say that I am somewhere in the middle on all of this. I don't think that the public option is the end of the world as some would claim - I think the situation is so awful now that there is little else to do. I am also encouraged by the push for primary care (being a PCP myself) and hope the congress will avoid melting to the money and actually push primary care. People need to have someone who is "their doctor." My seniors come to me for advice when they are confused and I counsel them when to seek more care and when to forego it (although I abide by their wishes in the end). Most people are clueless going through the system.

    But I don't think seniors will immediately benefit from the public option. They will probably have less access because of it, as others now have access and the # of docs is not adequate (PCP's). In the big picture, yes. But the transition will probably hurt them some.

  2. Thanks so much for coming by! I had never thought about the possibility that the transition, if we're lucky enough to have a transition, will be complex and probably traumatic for some seniors. It's weird, but I totally sympathize with the 'don't change my Medicare' attitude -- it's one of the more functional parts of the system we've got.

    I'm going to go walk my dog and meditate on the phrase "melting to the money", then come back and steal it.