Lou Dobbs' right-wing war on health care reform

Lou Dobbs has advanced discredited right-wing smears about health care reform efforts, including the notions that end-of-life counseling could lead to “euthanasia” and that President Obama said he “doesn't even know what's in” the House health care bill. Dobbs has also touted GOP Sen. John Barrasso as “one of the leading experts on ... health care” and has provided a forum for serial misinformer Betsy McCaughey to falsely claim that the economic recovery package would allow the federal government to eliminate “whatever” it deems to be “unnecessary” health care.

Dobbs suggests that end-of-life counseling might lead to “euthanasia”

Echoing right-wing falsehood, Dobbs asks of “end of life” counseling: “What's next? Euthanasia?” Dobbs' suggestion that health care reform efforts could ultimately lead to “euthanasia” echoes a discredited right-wing myth that a provision in the House health care reform bill would require that seniors receive “mandatory” end-of-life counseling sessions that would, in Betsy McCaughey's words, “tell them how to end their life sooner.” Versions of this myth have been repeated by Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and The Washington Times. Like Dobbs, Fox News' Dick Morris said of health care reform efforts that senior citizens are “getting that this is creeping euthanasia” and Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr. suggested that the House legislation is “a subtle form of euthanasia.”

From the July 30 edition of United Stations Radio Networks' The Lou Dobbs Show:

SHAWN TULLY (Fortune editor at large): This bill is gonna be paid for by 50 percent cost savings and 50 percent new taxes. And by the way, another misnomer is that this is revenue-neutral. It's supposed to be deficit-neutral. But revenue-neutral is completely wrong because taxes and spending have to go up enormously to pay for this.

DOBBS: Right.

TULLY: So it's not revenue-neutral. But they should be 100 percent against it because all of cuts come out of the senior citizens who are on Medicare.

DOBBS: Yeah. And also, they want you to go out and start getting counseling for end of life. I love that one.

TULLY: That's correct, and the AARP should be vehemently against that. And we all know that a lot of the expenses for medical care come in the last couple of years, but they want to put protocols on people who are --

DOBBS: Well, you know, we could save a lot of money. I mean, you know -- I mean, what they're basically talking about -- I mean, you start getting to that level, what's next? Euthanasia?

TULLY: That's right, absolutely. And all of the cuts are going to come at the expense of Medicare patients. I don't know how Obama's gonna spin this one.

Claims of mandatory counseling for seniors to end their lives are false. Contrary to assertions by McCaughey and other promoters of the euthanasia myth, the House bill does not make end-of-life counseling mandatory. The relevant section of the bill amends the Social Security Act to ensure that advance care planning will be covered if a patient requests it from a qualified care provider [America's Affordable Health Choices Act, Sec. 1233]. According to an analysis of the bill produced by the three relevant House committees, the section "[p]rovides coverage for consultation between enrollees and practitioners to discuss orders for life-sustaining treatment. Instructs CMS to modify 'Medicare & You' handbook to incorporate information on end-of-life planning resources and to incorporate measures on advance care planning into the physician's quality reporting initiative." [waysandmeans.house.gov, accessed 7/29/09]

PolitiFact: Claim that seniors would be told how to end lives sooner “is an outright distortion.” Criticizing McCaughey's false claims, PolitiFact.com wrote that the “claim that the sessions would 'tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner' is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn't just wrong, she's spreading a ridiculous falsehood.” [PolitiFact.com, 7/23/09]

Echoing falsehood, Dobbs claims Obama doesn't know what's in House bill

Dobbs echoes Drudge and Limbaugh in faulting Obama for lack of familiarity with non-existent provision. After Obama said he was “not familiar” with health care reform opponents' false talking point that the House bill would ban individual private health insurance, The Drudge Report, a Heritage Foundation blog, and Rush Limbaugh all falsely claimed on July 21 that Obama, in Limbaugh's words, “admit[ted] he doesn't know” what's in the House health care bill. Dobbs echoed that argument on his radio show later that same day, later adding that “this legislation that President Obama says the time for talk is over, it has to be passed by the first of August, and he doesn't even know what's in it.”

From the July 21 edition of The Lou Dobbs Show:

DOBBS: But he said with a group of liberal bloggers last night -- they were talking about -- one blogger from Maine said he kept running into an Investor's Business Daily article claiming Section 102 of the House health legislation would outlaw private insurance. He asked, Is this true? Will people be able to keep their insurance, and will insurers be able to write new policies even though H.R. 3200 is passed?" The president replied: “You know, I have to say I'm not familiar with the provision you are talking about.”

I mean, this president wants it passed by the first of August. You remember Bill Clinton -- you can say whatever you want to him, but he was a wonk. He knew what was going on. This president is presiding, and he is pushing, and he doesn't seem to have a very clear detailed view at all of what he is asking -- no, demanding -- of the Democratically led Congress.

SALLY PIPES (president, Pacific Research Institute): Well, you're absolutely right.


DOBBS: I urge every person in the “Independent Nation” to make themselves heard. Make sure your congressman, your senator, your congresswoman, every elected official knows where you stand on this -- well, this legislation that President Obama says the time for talk is over, it has to be passed by the first of August, and he doesn't even know what's in it.

Dobbs provides forum for Betsy McCaughey's falsehoods

Dobbs helps McCaughey advance falsehood that stimulus allows government to eliminate care it “deems unnecessary.” Dobbs introduced serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey on his CNN show by asserting that “hidden deep within the stimulus package are provisions that could greatly limit the health care that we all receive. My next guest says those provisions, in fact, could give the federal government unprecedented control over our medical treatment.” Dobbs then let McCaughey falsely claim that the health information technology provision in the economic recovery legislation would allow the federal government to eliminate "[w]hatever [it] deems unnecessary care." [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 2/10/09]

Dobbs' inaccurate McCaughey segment echoed numerous media conservatives. In advancing McCaughey's false claims, Dobbs joined Limbaugh, Drudge, Wall Street Journal senior economics writer Stephen Moore, Fox News host Glenn Beck, and Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly.

Dobbs' McCaughey segment debunked by CNN's own health care reporter. The day after Dobbs hosted McCaughey, CNN correspondent Elizabeth Cohen reported: “I had a PDF of the bill up on my computer. I said [to McCaughey], 'Show me where in the bill it says that this bill is going to have the government telling your doctor what to do.' And she directed me to language -- it didn't actually say that. But she said that it was vague enough that it would allow for that to happen in the future. Now, when we asked the folks who wrote this bill, 'Hey, is this bill going to allow the government to tell doctors what to do?' they used words like 'preposterous' and 'completely and wildly untrue.' ” [CNN Newsroom, 2/11/09]

Dobbs repeatedly advanced GOP claims that SCHIP could benefit undocumented immigrants

Dobbs forwarded GOP claims that SCHIP bill would provide coverage to “illegal aliens.” During a report on Dobbs' CNN show on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) expansion, correspondent Lisa Sylvester reported that conservatives were “charging that the legislation will make it easier for illegal aliens to receive government-paid health insurance” and aired Rep. John Boehner's claim that “no verification system to speak of is contained in the bill.” After the bill had been signed into law roughly a month later, Dobbs said that “opponents say it will make it easier for illegal aliens to receive taxpayer-funded health insurance,” and Sylvester again reported Republican charges that “people living in the United States illegally might be able to access” health insurance benefits under new legislation. In neither case did Dobbs or Sylvester note that the legislation included a citizenship verification process in which states would use SCHIP applicants' names and Social Security numbers to verify that they are eligible. [Lou Dobbs Tonight, 1/14/09, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 2/4/09].

Dobbs promotes GOP Sen. Barrasso as health care “expert”

Dobbs labeled Barrasso “leading expert” on “healthcare.” Introducing Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) on his radio show, Dobbs asserted that Barrasso is “one of the leading experts on, of course, health care.” [The Lou Dobbs Show, 7/29/09, accessed from his website]

Senate GOP has promoted Barrasso as part of its “Senate Doctors Show.” Barrasso regularly co-hosts online videos with Republican Sen. Tom Coburn (OK) to push the Republican message on health care. A Barrasso press release introducing the show stated: “Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) announced today a new, live, online show -- 'Senate Doctors' -- broadcasting here every Tuesday and Thursday. ... Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) -- an orthopedic trauma surgeon and former President of the Wyoming Medical Society -- and Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) -- a family practice physician specializing in obstetrics -- will be regular hosts, with guests making appearances. The show will focus on policy discussions, with constituents sharing their questions, stories, concerns, and comments about health care proposals being debated in Congress.” [Barrasso release, 7/8/09]

Barrasso has history of health care misinformation. Despite Dobbs' embrace of Barrasso as a “leading” health care “expert,” Barrasso has a history of spreading falsehoods on the issue. For example, Barrasso repeated the false claim -- first concocted by the Investor's Business Daily editorial board -- that the House bill would ban individual private health insurance. Like various conservative media figures, Barrasso suggested that because Obama said he was not familiar with that falsehood, that meant Obama did not understand the provisions of the bill.

From the July 21 installment of “Senate Doctors” (begins at about 11:30):

BARRASSO: Even today on a -- the president had a conference call with a number of bloggers, and they asked him a specific question about the bill, because he continues to say that, you know, anyone keep the plan -- can keep the plan that they want and keep the doctor that they want. And this blogger said, well, what about these specific points and -- because there's been an Investor's Business Daily editorial about the fact that insurance companies aren't going to be able to sell insurance after a certain date -- and the president said, you know, I'm not familiar with that part of the bill. And that's why I think we need to have everybody have a chance to take a look at the bill, take it home over the break, travel around, listen. Because there are unintended consequences. These bills are very complicated.

Dobbs' on-screen text asks if “Obama's Healthcare plan” is “class warfare”

From the July 17 edition of Lou Dobbs Tonight:

Dobbs suggests health care reform would deny liver transplants to alcoholics

From the July 21 edition of The Lou Dobbs Show:

DOBBS: By the way, there was an incredible story about a young man, 22 years old, who was an alcoholic, who was denied a liver transplant by the British Health Service, and he died because the British Health Service decided that he was not a fit risk for a liver transplant. I mean, we're talking about turning over life-and-death decisions to a government. And that should, it seems to me, trouble the most -- I don't know -- the most ardent supporter of health care at any cost in this country.

Some alcoholics must meet similar criteria for transplants in the U.S. Dobbs was apparently referring to the case of a 22-year-old British man who died because he was too ill to survive the process of meeting “organ donation criteria which require an alcohol-free period of at least six months.” [BBC, 7/20/09] However, according to a National Institutes of Health publication, similar criteria are currently in use in the U.S. for transplant candidates with alcoholic liver disease [ALD]: “Some transplant programs and insurance companies insist on an absolute 6-month period of abstinence before a patient with ALD can be listed for liver transplantation.” [NIH, 9/29/04]