Right-Wing Media Kick Off 2011 By Dusting Off “Death Panel” Lie

The right-wing media are kicking off 2011 by reviving “death panel” claims -- which was PolitiFact's 2009 “Lie of the Year” -- by claiming that a recent change to Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements was tantamount to the establishment of “death panels.” In fact, the rule simply compensates doctors for providing voluntary end-of-life counseling.

Right-Wing Media Seize on CMS Rule Change to Revive False “Death Panel” Myth

Knight: “The Dreaded 'Death Panels' Are Back.” Following news that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) approved payment for voluntary end-of-life counseling, Robert Knight wrote in a Washington Times op-ed:

Finally, the dreaded “death panels” are back. Recall that on Christmas Eve 2009, Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid's U.S. Senate rammed through the national health care system takeover. They ignored public opposition and mocked the idea that federal bureaucrats would institute end-of-life counseling. But, in deference to the public's growing alarm, they took out Section 1233.

It was a bait-and-switch. A year later, on Christmas Day 2010, the New York Times broke the story that Donald Berwick, Mr. Obama's unvetted czar who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, issued a rule to pay doctors for end-of-life counseling. That was the essence of Section 1233. The Times acknowledged that the counseling “may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.” Exactly. [Washington Times, 1/2/11]

Newsmax: “Obama Embraces 'Death Panel' Concept In Medicare Rule.” A December 26 Newsmax article titled, “Obama Embraces 'Death Panel' Concept in Medicare Rule,” claimed:

During the stormy debate over his healthcare plan, President Barack Obama promised his program would not “pull the plug on grandma,” and Congress dropped plans for death panels and “end of life” counseling that would encourage aged patients from partaking in costly medical procedures.

Opponents of Obama's plan, including former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, dubbed such efforts as “death panels” that would encourage euthanasia.

But on Dec. 3, the Obama administration seemingly flouted the will of Congress by issuing a new Medicare regulation detailing “voluntary advance care planning” that is to be included during patients' annual checkups. The regulation aimed at the aged “may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment,” The New York Times reported. [Newsmax, 12/26/10]

Big Government: “Obama Administration Bypassing Congress to Institute Death Panel 'Discussions.'” In a Big Government post, Seton Motley reported on the CMS regulations by claiming CMS director Donald Berwick “is jamming through his dreamed-of doctor death discussions -- which are almost inarguably the first step towards death panels of our very own.” [BigGovernment.com, 12/29/10]

Perino: “If You Thought The Death Panel Debate Was Dead, Think Again.” On the December 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record, guest host Dana Perino teased a segment on end-of-life counseling by claiming: “If you thought the death panel debate was dead, think again. It's heating up, and you have to stick around to find out what's in store for end-of-life planning, starting this Saturday.” Perino later introduced the segment by asking, “Are the so-called death panels revived?” Perino's guest, Washington Examiner columnist Byron York, noted during the segment that it was not accurate to describe the CMS rule change as “death panels revived.” [Fox News' On The Record, 12/27/10]

Carlson: "[T]he Government Will Now Pay Doctors To Counsel Patients To Opt Out Of Medical Treatment That Might Prolong Their Lives." On Hannity, guest host Tucker Carlson introduced a debate on end-of-life counseling by saying “Remember those infamous death panels? ... According to The New York Times, this new regulation may provide Americans, quote, 'advanced directives to forego aggressive life-sustaining treatment.' In other words, the government will now pay doctors to counsel patients to opt out of medical treatment that might prolong their lives.” [Fox News' Hannity, 12/26/10]

In Fact, The Regulations Provide Compensation To Doctors For Performing Voluntary Counseling

New Regulations Simply Provide Reimbursement For “Voluntary” End-Of-Life Counseling. According to the new regulations put forward by CMS, Medicare will provide compensation for "[v]oluntary advance care planning upon agreement with the individual." The regulations further define the planning services as voluntary:

Voluntary advance care planning means, for purposes of this section, verbal or written information regarding the following areas:

(i) An individual's ability to prepare an advance directive in the case where an injury or illness causes the individual to be unable to make health care decisions.

(ii) Whether or not the physician is willing to follow the individual's wishes as expressed in an advance directive. [Federal Register, 11/29/10]

Chicago Sun-Times Calls “Death Panel” Term “Blatantly False” And “Nonsense.” A Chicago Sun-Times editorial noted:

Death panels. Government-sponsored euthanasia. Pulling the plug on grandma.

Those were just some of the blatantly false terms conservatives threw around last year to scare Congress into stripping a provision out of the health-reform bill that would have allowed Medicare to reimburse doctors for providing voluntary, end-of-life counseling to their patients.

The scare tactics worked. Now, the Obama administration has issued similar Medicare guidelines authorizing payment to doctors who provide voluntary end-of-life counseling during annual check-ups.

Not surprisingly, critics of the new guidelines, which went into effect Saturday, wasted no time reviving alarmist rhetoric that these private doctor-patient conversations would be used to goad seniors into foregoing potentially life-sustaining care in their final days.


Encouraging seniors to think about what, if any, life-sustaining measures they would want taken if they were gravely ill isn't the same as encouraging them to forgo treatment. [Chicago Sun-Times, 1/2/11]

Baltimore Sun: Calling Voluntary Counseling “Death Panels” Is “Patently False.” A Baltimore Sun editorial recommended that "[n]ow that the new Medicare rules are in place, politicians should clam up and let doctors and patients hold private, sensible talks about this sensitive topic." The Sun further noted:

Not so long ago such end of life discussions were pilloried by Republicans and a few Democrats as a precursor to “death panels” -- groups supposedly created by the health care reform legislation being considered at the time that would decide whether the elderly or infirm should be able to get needed medical care. That was patently false, but it had an effect. [Baltimore Sun, 12/28/10]

Miami Herald: End-Of-Life Counseling “Does Not Mean 'Pulling The Plug On Grandma.'” A Miami Herald editorial stated:

What with all the hysteria, hyperbole and hissy fits about “death panels,” you would have thought that President Obama was imposing the end of life as we know it in these United States.

He wasn't. Rather, as part of his vision for healthcare reform, Mr. Obama proposed paying doctors to include end-of-life planning discussions with patients, especially seniors and the critically ill.


This does not mean “pulling the plug on grandma,” as the president sought to assure Americans during the healthcare debate -- nor should it ever mean that. Some opponents expressed legitimate fears that the proposal was an excuse to withhold treatment from the severely ill or disabled.

Rather, end-of-life counseling should guide patients and their families -- voluntarily -- through what is rarely an easy conversation to have, but one that is crucial to ensure that such decisions are sound and informed. [Miami Herald, 1/1/11]

Right-Wing Media Also Mislead On Health Care Legal Challenges

Kilmeade Claims Court Cases Show Health Care “Might Be Unconstitutional.” On Fox News' Fox & Friends, host Brian Kilmeade claimed that Obama “sees the fight in the courts. Look what happened in Virginia. Look what happened in Florida, when it comes to telling the American people you have to have health insurance. Might be unconstitutional.” [Fox & Friends, 1/3/11]

In Fact, Two Federal Judges Have Upheld Law's Individual Mandate Vs. One Who Did Not

Two Previous Federal Court Rulings Have Upheld Health Care Law. As Politico reported, in October, U.S. District Court Judge George Steeh ruled that the health care law's individual mandate “falls squarely within Congress's ability under the Constitution to regulate interstate commerce.” In November, a federal judge in Virginia similarly upheld the law. [Politico, 10/7/10; CNN.com, 12/1/10]

The Florida Case Has Not Yet Been Decided. The multistate case brought in Florida is still being decided. According to CNN, U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson of heard the challenge on December 16. The decision is pending. [CNN, 12/16/10]

Legal Commentators From Across Political Spectrum Say Virginia Ruling Was Wrong. As Media Matters has documented, legal scholars and commentators from across the political spectrum have said that Virginia federal district court Judge Henry Hudson's ruling striking down the individual mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act was fatally flawed and contained “obvious” errors. [Media Matters, 12/14/10]