WASHINGTON, D.C., January 5, 2011 ( – The Obama administration has deleted controversial sections of a Medicare regulation that would have called for end-of-life counseling for elderly patients under the new health care reform law.

The provisions had previously won notoriety for putting in place what former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin had famously labeled “death panels.”

Administration officials quoted by the New York Times Tuesday said the provisions were removed for procedural reasons; however, the Times noted that political concerns also likely drove the change. Currently House Republicans are gearing up to attempt to repeal the unpopular law, and the deletion of the controversial section removes some of their ammo. 

The provisions had originally been part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but were dropped under pressure from conservatives and pro-life groups. However, the same directive was issued in the form of a Health and Human Services regulation last November by Donald M. Berwick, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The National Right to Life Committee had argued that the regulation was aimed at reducing Medicare spending by encouraging elderly patients to opt against more expensive, lifesaving treatments, and chastised the administration for sneaking the controversial language past Congress.

“The sudden change shows that pro-life opposition can and will make a difference,” wrote National Right to Life (NRTL) President Wanda Franz in an email to supporters.  “It is clear that the Obama administration is nervous about bringing attention to the many rationing elements its health law.”

The recent move, however, does not mark the end of health rationing fears: Franz noted that pro-life groups ought to “redouble their efforts” to expose other troubling aspects of the health care legislation regarding end-of-life care.

Click here for NRTL’s information on rationing in health care reform.


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