Right-Wing Media Hijack VA Investigation To Resurrect ACA “Death Panels” Myth

Conservative media outlets jumped at the chance to revive the long-debunked myth of a “death panel” provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by exploiting the serious investigation into problems within the Veterans Affairs (VA) administration.

Inspector General Launches Investigation Into VA Scheduling Practices 

Wash. Post: VA Launches Investigation Into Allegations Of Improper Scheduling Practices At VA Health Clinics. On May 15, the Washington Post reported that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki testified to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee following the launch of the VA's inspector investigation into “multiple reports of alleged preventable deaths and attempts to cover up treatment delays at VA health clinics.”

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee called Shinseki to testify after multiple reports of alleged preventable deaths and attempts to cover up treatment delays at VA health clinics. Whistleblowers have said a Phoenix VA hospital kept delays off the books with secret waiting lists that allegedly included dozens of patients who died while waiting for care.


The department's inspector general has launched an investigation of the allegations, and Shin­seki ordered face-to-face audits of scheduling practices at all VA health clinics. The secretary has promised to take action on the reviews when they are complete. [Washington Post5/15/14]

Right-Wing Media Uses VA Investigation To Revive ACA “Death Panels” Myth 

Fox's Hannity: "Is This The Equivalent Of Health Care Death Panels For Our Vets?" On the May 19 edition of his Fox News show, Sean Hannity asked Senator John McCain (R-AZ) whether the VA scandal was “the equivalent of health care death panels for our vets?” [Fox News, Hannity5/19/14, via Media Matters]

Truth Revolt: “Sarah Palin Was Right ... With Her Prediction Of Death Panels Inside Obamacare.” Conservative website Truth Revolt declared “Sarah Palin was right again and this time it is with her prediction of death panels inside Obamacare” following allegations that up to 40 veterans died waiting for care from the VA:

It looks like Sarah Palin was right again and this time it is with her prediction of death panels inside Obamacare.

Palin haters have long ridiculed her for suggesting such an evil practice, especially through legislation written by Democrats who have America's best interests at heart. Now, those haters are faced with the recent revelations that 40 U.S. veterans were allowed to die after being placed on secret waiting lists to receive treatment in a VA hospital in Arizona, while hospital officials hid the evidence. In a Facebook post Friday, Palin suggested that this is a prime example of her predictions under Obamacare. [Truth Revolt, accessed 5/20/14]

Rush Limbaugh: “Evidence Is Pretty Clear” Of “Death Panel At Work” At VA.  During the May 19 edition of his radio show, host Rush Limbaugh alleged that the “evidence is pretty clear” that the VA deaths were a result “some death panel at work.” Limbaugh added that Obamacare is “headed for a similar potential as these deaths in the VA”:

But no matter how you come down on this, I mean, some of you are not gonna want to believe the death panel aspect, even though the evidence is pretty clear. When you have government employees receiving salary bonuses for ostensibly saving money by virtue of shrinking the number of people on the list, how does that happen?  How do people end up off the list and not get treated?  They pass away.  And if you're gonna have government employees bonused on that basis, then you would be not that far out of whack to assume there might be some death panel at work here. 


So these people here, “Oh, we care so much about our veterans,” are not do anything for 'em.  “We really care about 'em.”  The incompetence is a big thing to me.  Snerdley, do you realize how few people are gonna believe the death panel thing anyway?  But yet we still gotta find a way to convince people that this Obamacare can't work and that everybody's headed for a similar potential as these deaths in the VA.  They just can't do it.  They just can't run it.  There's nobody that has any real world, private sector experience running anything to do with health care or medical treatment or medical care. [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show5/19/14, via Media Matters]

Fox's Bolling: VA Problems Proving That Sarah Palin Was Right About Death Panels. On the May 19 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Eric Bolling claimed that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was right when she said the ACA had death panels because of the allegations of a waiting list for veterans receiving care from the VA: 

Whether you believe it or not, Sarah Palin and a couple other people on the right said there will be death panels. There will be people deciding who gets what treatment and when and that's just gonna put long waiting lines on certain types of treatment. Well, if the VA isn't proving that right now, nothing is. [Fox News, Fox & Friends5/19/14, via Media Matters]

Hannity: “Doesn't It Sound Like A Death Panel?” On the May 19 edition of his radio show, Sean Hannity claimed the allegations of a waiting list for care at the VA “sound a like a death panel.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Sean Hannity Show5/19/14, via Media Matters]

Human Events: Obamacare Is Dragging Us Towards “Death-Panel Treatment Given To Vets.” Conservative news site Human Events accused Obama of not caring about VA soldier deaths and ignoring the “bureaucratic incompetence, malfeasance, and deception on a scale we haven't seen since... well, ObamaCare, which is dragging us toward a hellish single-payer future in which everyone enjoys the death-panel treatment given to vets.” [Human Events, 5/16/14]

Right-Wing Media Have History Of Pushing “Death Panel” Myth 

Fox Guest Host Asked Whether Prescription Drug Provisions “Were Rationing” Or “The So-Called Death Panels.” On the February 14 edition of Fox's Special Report, guest host Doug McKelway asked if the prescription drug provisions were “rationing or, as some people have said, the so-called death panels.” Fox contributor Charles Krauthammer agreed, claiming that “We're learning how much rationing is the essence of Obamacare -- the rationing of doctors, the rationing of hospitals. Here we begin to understand the rationing of drugs. Next, and in the end, will be rationing of care.” [Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier2/14/14, via Media Matters]

Fox News Host Claimed Senate “Nuclear Option” Could Lead To Nominations To A “Death Panel.” On the November 26 edition of Fox News' Happening Now, co-host Jenna Lee  introduced a segment purporting that “new fallout from the nuclear option” change to Senate procedure could allow Obama the power to nominate candidates to “so-called death panels” without GOP input. [Fox News, Happening Now11/26/13, via Media Matters]

Fox's Sarah Palin: “Of Course There Are Death Panels” In “Evil” Obamacare. During a segment on Fox News' Cashin' In, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin advanced the “death panels” myth, saying:

PALIN: Of course there are death panels in there. But the important thing to remember is that's just one aspect of this atrocious, unaffordable, cumbersome, burdensome evil policy of Obama's and that is Obamacare. [Fox News, Cashin' In8/10/13]

Breitbart.com's John Nolte: Death Panels “Are Already A Part Of Obamacare.” Breitbart.com columnist John Nolte claimed that “death panels” are included in the health care law:

The first services usually axed by death panels staffed with a handful of bureaucrats are the costly and uncertain experimental procedures that sometimes fail many times before leading to a breakthrough, as well as expensive, life-saving operations on the ill, handicapped, and elderly.

Some Democrats, most notably Howard Dean, are already pushing back against the “death panels” that are already a part of ObamaCare. [Breitbart.com, 8/10/13

Fox's Marc Siegel: ACA's Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) Is “A Death Panel, It's A Rationing Board.” On Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto, Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel called the IPAB, which is forbidden to make any recommendation to ration health care or restrict benefits, “a death panel” and “a rationing board.” [Fox News, Your World with Neil Cavuto8/6/13, via Media Matters]

Rush Limbaugh: “Death Panels” Will Decide “Who Gets What, Who Gets Paid For And Who Doesn't.” On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed, “There's a thing in Obamacare called death panels that are going to decide what, you know, who gets what, who gets paid for and who doesn't.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show8/1/13]

Hannity: “Obamacare Death Panels Are In Fact Alive And Well.” On his Fox News show, Hannity said that “there is new evidence to suggest the so-called Obamacare death panels are in fact alive and well.” Hannity interviewed Sarah Palin, who said that her “claim that death panels were a part of Obamacare and the rationing of health care services” has “proven to be true.” [Fox News, Hannity, 7/30/13, via Nexis]

“Death Panel” Smear Has Been Debunked Over And Over Again  

Health Care Law Explicitly States That IPAB Cannot Make “Any Recommendation To Ration Health Care.” The text of the ACA confirms that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) cannot make “any recommendation to ration health care... or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria”:

The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums under section 1818, 1818A, or 1839, increase Medicare beneficiary cost- sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria. [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, accessed 8/13/13, OpenCongress.org]

Politifact Rates “Death Panel” Claim as “Pants on Fire” LiePolitifact thoroughly debunked Sarah Palin's original claim of death panels:

We've looked at the inflammatory claims that the health care bill encourages euthanasia. It doesn't. There's certainly no 'death board' that determines the worthiness of individuals to receive care. ... [Palin] said that the Democratic plan will ration care and 'my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care.' Palin's statement sounds more like a science fiction movie (Soylent Green, anyone?) than part of an actual bill before Congress. We rate her statement Pants on Fire! [PolitiFact.com, 8/10/09]

PolitiFact: “Of All The Falsehoods And Distortions In The Political Discourse This Year,” Death Panels “Stood Out From The Rest.” In December 2009, PolitiFact named “death panels” its 2009 “Lie of the Year”:

Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest. 

“Death panels.”

The claim set political debate afire when it was made in August, raising issues from the role of government in health care to the bounds of acceptable political discussion. In a nod to the way technology has transformed politics, the statement wasn't made in an interview or a television ad. Sarah Palin posted it on her Facebook page. 

Her assertion -- that the government would set up boards to determine whether seniors and the disabled were worthy of care -- spread through newscasts, talk shows, blogs and town hall meetings. Opponents of health care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink. Still others scratched their heads and said, “Death panels? Really ?”

The editors of PolitiFact.com, the fact-checking Web site of the St. Petersburg Times, have chosen it as our inaugural “Lie of the Year.” [PolitiFact, 12/18/09]

To read more about the right-wing media's history of advancing the “death panels” myth, click hereherehere, and here