Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity have linked a task force's recommendation that fewer women younger than 50 receive regular mammograms to the widely debunked smear that Democratic health reform bills include “death panels.” Right-wing media figures have repeatedly raised the specter of these purported panels in their discussions of health care; in this case, their fearmongering is undermined by the fact that the recommendations are not legally binding on health care providers or insurers.
Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity all link nonbinding task force recommendations to the “death panels” falsehood
Beck referred to “some crazy skeptics still worried about potential rationing, so-called death panels,” and then proceeded to discuss the task force's mammogram recommendations. During the November 18 broadcast of his Fox News program, Beck said, “The health care reform debate continues. Some crazy skeptics still worried about potential rationing, so-called death panels, Sarah Palin.” Beck continued: “In a totally unrelated matter, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has seemingly done a 180-degree turn in the last six months” and then discussed the recommendations.
Limbaugh: “You might even say that we've got death panels going on here.” During the November 18 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh discussed the recommendations and stated, “You might even say that we've got death panels going on here.”
Hannity adds “death panels” to his fearmongering over the mammogram recommendation. On his November 18 radio show, Hannity continued to fearmonger over the task force recommendations, stating: “Is this a death panel, ladies and gentlemen? I mean for women who don't get mammograms. What does that mean? That means we're not going to have the early detection.”
Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity join right-wing media's fearmongering over the task force recommendations. Numerous conservatives in the media, including Fox News contributors Dr. Marc Siegel and Dr. Keith Ablow -- in addition to Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity -- have fearmongered that the task force recommendations are a part of government rationing under health care reform.
Rationing claim undermined: Task force recommendations not legally binding
Task force did not recommend blanket ban on mammograms for women under 50. The task force issued a grade C recommendation “against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years” and stated that "[t]he decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take into account patient context, including the patient's values regarding specific benefits and harms." As a grade C recommendation, clinicians are counseled to "[o]ffer or provide this service only if other considerations support the offering or providing the service in an individual patient."
Task force encouraged policymakers to include additional considerations and “individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation.” In publishing its updated recommendations in The Annals of Internal Medicine, the task force acknowledged that other considerations should be included in determining what preventive treatment to provide, stating, “The USPSTF recognizes that clinical or policy decisions involve more considerations than this body of evidence alone. Clinicians and policymakers should understand the evidence but individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation.”
NBC's Snyderman: “It's important to remember that these new recommendations from this independent task force are just that -- they're recommendations.” In a Nightly News report on the task force recommendations, NBC chief medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman stated, “It's important to remember that these new recommendations from this independent task force are just that -- they're recommendations. They don't mandate any changes in who should get mammograms and when." [NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, 11/17/09]
Right-wing media have repeatedly revived debunked “death panel” claim
Fox News personalities advance Palin's “death panel” claim. In an August 7 Facebook posting, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin claimed that under Democratic health care reform, “Obama's 'death panel' ” would “decide” whether her parents or her son Trig, who has Down syndrome, were “worthy of health care.” Over the following days, several Fox News anchors, hosts, and contributors adopted Palin's “death panel” term or advanced or expressed support for her assertion -- which is based on the widely debunked claim that the House health care reform bill would require end-of-life counseling. Media Matters for America subsequently identified more than 40 instances of media reporting that these claims are false.
Fox News uses “death book” lie to revive “death panels” lie. Following several days in which Fox News promoted the smear that an educational booklet on end-of-life decisions used by the Veterans Health Administration is a “death book,” on August 24, Fox News host Megyn Kelly and Fox News contributor Jonah Goldberg used a discussion about the booklet to revive the falsehood that Democratic health care reform legislation would institute “death panels.” Kelly also falsely claimed that the booklet encourages veterans to “hurry up and die” and that VHA officials are “required” to refer patients to it.
Right-wing outlets used AP article about Medicare coverage for voluntary end-of-life counseling to resurrect “death panel” myth. Linking to an October 30 Associated Press article about Medicare coverage for voluntary end-of-life counseling in the House health care bill, conservative media outlets such as Fox News and BigGovernment.com featured misleading headlines to revive the widely debunked “death panel” smear. Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr. also stated during an interview with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), “So with regard to the death panel, nothing much has changed.”