Why no Surgeon General?

Granted, saying that “Obama Care” provides for a “death panel” to make decisions about the level of one’s medical care is hyperbole. Of course there’s no mention in the frontrunning bill, H.R. 3200, of any “death panel.” I’ve read enough of that Bill, however, to see the likely genesis of that hyperbole, and it’s not particularly reassuring.

Have you wondered why President Obama hasn’t yet nominated anyone to be Surgeon General? I suggest that we keep an eye on that vacancy, because if H.R. 3200 becomes law, whoever is named Surgeon General will have enormous power.

The Surgeon General of the U.S. would chair an extensive Health Benefits Advisory Committee most of whose members would be appointed by the President. This panel would, within a year, propose standards of care for a couple of different levels of a federal health care plan to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius, one time executive director and chief lobbyist for the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association, who will decide whether to accept them.

Currently, we have an acting Surgeon General, a career Navy doctor, who, I am convinced, is just a place-holder. Remember that Dr. Sanjay Gupta from TV was being touted as the next S.G, but withdrew his name. I believe Dr. Gupta was mentioned to make people think that Obama was leaning toward appointing someone familiar and innocuous. This is more of Obama’s stalling. He would never appoint a left-wing Surgeon General before passage of the bill, for to do so would likely ensure its defeat. There’s much in the bill about the diversity of Advisory Committee members in the sense that they must represent labor, medical practitioners, private insurers, etc. And, oh yes, there’s a provision for collecting public input.  But knowing how all this could, in the final analysis, be manipulated, it’s still scary.

One of the President’s primary health advisors is Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel who has written that doctors “take the hypocratic oath too seriously.” Among other things, the oath says, “I (the physician) will apply … measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment” (emphasis mine). I don’t believe Dr. Emanuel is, as some have implied, a “doctor death.” Rather he is an academician who theorizes about arcane points of medical ethics as though it would be possible to apply theory to practical decision-making with universally superior results. Would you want your doctor pausing to consider whether your care is justified in the context of the greater social good or have him/her getting on with the application of best medical practices? Care delayed could result in care denied. (–The problem, by the way, with establishing a whole new bureaucracy.)

When I imagine Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel as Surgeon General presiding over a committee made up overwhelmingly of Presidential appointees, reporting to Secretary Kathleen Sibelius who reports to the President I find it a highly unsettling scenario.


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