The New “Death Panels” : Right-Wing Media's Falsehood About Obama's Policy On Doctors And Guns

LimbaughOnce again the right-wing media is pushing a falsehood based on their misrepresentation of whether a Democratic proposal involving doctors is mandatory.

The right-wing media is falsely claiming that President Obama is requiring doctors to ask their patients if they have guns, a claim that echoes their 2009 freak-out about supposed “death panels” in a proposed health care bill. In fact, as was the case with the end-of-life counseling provision in the health care bill, Obama's policies related to doctors and guns are voluntary.

In July 2009, shortly after a Democratic health care bill was introduced in the House of Representatives, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey claimed that a provision of the bill would “absolutely require”  seniors to “submit” to regular counseling sessions “that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” This was false: the provision would have actually ensured that voluntary advanced care planning session where doctors and patients could discuss options like living wills were covered by Medicare - a proposal that had previously been supported by Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).

Nonetheless, after McCaughey offered up her false claim regarding the provision, the right-wing media - led by Rush Limbaugh -- was quick to trumpet it. And the falsehood took on an even greater intensity after Sarah Palin claimed that under the proposal, “my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel,'” an absurd statement that was quickly adopted by Fox News.

Meanwhile, mainstream outlets repeatedly debunked the claim - more than 40 times in the month after McCaughey offered her initial claim. But in spite of the media's effort to debunk the right-wing's claims, the provision was dropped from the Senate's health care bill, and did not become law with the passage of the Affordable Care Act. 

A similar pattern is unfolding with regard to a policy on guns and doctors President Obama's unveiled during his January 16 announcement regarding gun violence prevention policies he supports. Among a variety of other proposals, the White House announced that the administration would “issue guidance clarifying that the Affordable Care Act does not ban doctors from asking patients ” about firearms in their patients' homes and safe storage of those firearms."

While nothing in the White House proposal suggests that this is a mandatory requirement that doctors ask patients if they have firearms in the home, right-wing media quickly began suggesting that the proposal did just that.

On his January 16 broadcast, Limbaugh claimed that under that policy:

So now doctors are being ordered, instructed to talk to patients and get information from them about gun ownership, where they are in their house, who has access to them, where the ammunition is kept.

He later added: “The doctors are now under the thumb of Obamacare.  They had better comply.  This is not a choice.” Fox News' Andrew Napolitano also fearmongered over the provision.