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Isakson bristles at Obama mention

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Sen. Johnny Isakson isn't taking too kindly to being mentioned by President Obama at his town hall today.

Isakson's office sent out a hot press release with the screaming headline: "Isakson Denounces White House Comments Connecting Him To Terribly Flawed House Health Care Bill."

Isakson, in an interview with the Washington Post's Ezra Klein, denounced Palin's assertion that there was a provision on "death panels," as "nuts."

So what gives?

Isakson takes issue, it appears, with Obama connecting him to the HOUSE version. He pushed for a similar amendment in the SENATE. He said in his release "he strongly opposed the House bill language calling for doctors to follow a government-mandated list of topics to discuss with patients during the counseling sessions."

That's certainly a difference in tone than what he told Klein.

Here's what he told Klein, followed by his press release and Obama's comments at the town hall:

How did this become a question of euthanasia?
I have no idea. I understand -- and you have to check this out -- I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin's web site had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts. You're putting the authority in the individual rather than the government. I don't know how that got so mixed up.

You're saying that this is not a question of government. It's for individuals.
It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you.

The policy here as I understand it is that Medicare would cover a counseling session with your doctor on end-of-life options.
Correct. And it's a voluntary deal.

Isakson's release:

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today denounced comments made by President Obama and his spokesman regarding Isakson's alleged connection to language contained in the House health care bill on "end-of-life counseling."

Isakson vehemently opposes the House and Senate health care bills and he played no role in drafting language added to the House bill by House Democrats calling for the government to incentivize doctors by offering them money to conduct "end-of-life counseling" with Medicare patients every five years. Isakson also strongly opposed the House bill language calling for doctors to follow a government-mandated list of topics to discuss with patients during the counseling sessions.

By contrast, Isakson took a very different approach in July during the Senate HELP Committee hearings on the Senate version of the health care bill. Isakson's amendment to the Senate bill says that anyone who participates in the long-term care benefit provided in the bill – if they so choose – may use that benefit to obtain assistance in formulating their own living will and durable power of attorney.

Isakson's amendment, which was accepted unanimously by all Republicans and Democrats on the Senate HELP Committee, empowers the individual to make their own choices on these critical issues, rather than the government incentivizing doctors to conduct counseling on government-mandated topics. Isakson ultimately voted against the Senate health care bill.

"This is what happens when the President and members of Congress don't read the bills. The White House and others are merely attempting to deflect attention from the intense negativity caused by their unpopular policies.  I never consulted with the White House in this process and had no role whatsoever in the House Democrats' bill.  I categorically oppose the House bill and find it incredulous that the White House and others would use my amendment as a scapegoat for their misguided policies," Isakson said.  "My Senate amendment simply puts health care choices back in the hands of the individual and allows them to consider if they so choose a living will or durable power of attorney. The House provision is merely another ill-advised attempt at more government mandates, more government intrusion, and more government involvement in what should be an individual choice."

Here's what Obama said today:

It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they're ready, on their own terms. It wasn't forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.

The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican -- then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia -- who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people's options. And somehow it's gotten spun into this idea of "death panels." I am not in favor of that. So just I want to -- (applause.) I want to clear the air here.

Now, in fairness, the underlying argument I think has to be addressed, and that is people's concern that if we are reforming the health care system to make it more efficient, which I think we have to do, the concern is that somehow that will mean rationing of care, right? -- that somehow some government bureaucrat out there will be saying, well, you can't have this test or you can't have this procedure because some bean-counter decides that this is not a good way to use our health care dollars. And this is a legitimate concern, so I just want to address this.