WASHINGTON - Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin refused to retreat from her debunked claim that a proposed health care overhaul would create "death panels," as the growing furor over end-of-life consultations forced a key group of U.S. senators to abandon the idea in their bill.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican and one of six lawmakers negotiating on a Senate bill, said Thursday they had dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration "entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly."
In a posting on the social network Facebook titled "Concerning Death Panels," Palin, last year's Republican vice-presidential nominee, argued Wednesday night that the elderly and ailing would be coerced into accepting minimal end-of-life care to reduce health care costs based on the Democratic bill in the House of Representatives.
But there will be no "death panels" under the legislation being considered. In fact, the provision in the bill would allow Medicare, the government-run health care plan for the elderly, to pay doctors for voluntary counselling sessions that address end-of-life issues. The conversations between doctor and patient would include living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy, learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill, and information about pain medications for people suffering chronic discomfort.
The sessions would be covered every five years, more frequently if someone is gravely ill.
The American Medical Association and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization support the provision.
In her posting, Palin wrote: "With all due respect, it's misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients," and added, "It's all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing."
The issue is no longer viable for the six members of the Senate Finance Committee - three Republicans and three Democrats - working on a bipartisan bill, according to Grassley. In a statement, Grassley criticized the House bill, saying there was a difference between a "simple education campaign, as some advocates want," and paying "physicians to advise patients about end-of-life care."
The provisions remain in the House bill, which would have to be reconciled with whatever bill the Senate eventually produces before President Barack Obama could sign it. He has said health care reform is his top domestic priority.
Obama campaigned last year on a promise of offering health care to all Americans. The United States is the only developed country that does not have comprehensive health care plan for all its citizens. Roughly 46 million of America's 300 million people are without health insurance.
Palin's posting came one day after Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said that Palin and other critics were not helping the Republicans by tossing out false claims. Portions of the Democratic health care bills "are bad enough that we don't need to be making things up," Murkowski said, invoking a phrase that Palin used in her resignation speech, when she asked the news media to "quit making things up."
Murkowski said she was offended at the death panel terminology. "There is no reason to gin up fear in the American public by saying things that are not included in the bill," she said.
Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, a Republican who co-sponsored a similar measure in the Senate, said it was "nuts" to claim the bill encourages euthanasia.
And Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat who authored the provision on end-of-life counselling, said he is astounded that Palin has not tempered her bleak descriptions of the health care bill.
"It's deliberate at this point," Blumenauer said. "If she wasn't deliberately lying at the beginning, she is deliberately allowing a terrible falsehood to be spread with her name."
He said the measure would block funds for counselling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option, calling references to death panels or euthanasia "mind-numbing."
In another development, The White House is trying to counter health care criticism that is circulating on the Internet by asking supporters to forward a pro-overhaul chain email.
It is the administration's latest attempt to regain control of the health care debate. White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod composed an email Thursday with the subject line "something worth forwarding" that lists reasons to support President Barack Obama's agenda - and myths to debunk.
Axelrod writes that opponents of Obama's agenda are relying on tactics including "viral emails that fly unchecked and under the radar, spreading all sorts of lies."
He invites supporters to forward his email to counter claims, including that Obama's plans would lead to rationing, encourage euthanasia or deplete veterans' health care.
Associated Press Writer Erica Werner contributed to this report.