Right-Wing Media's Debunked Obamacare “Death Panel” Myth Persists

Right-wing media continue to push the myth that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a “death panel” provision, and years after the birth of this smear, it continues to have an impact on public perception and find its way into Republican legislation.

When the House first introduced the health care bill that would eventually become the ACA in 2009, serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed the bill would “require” end-of-life counseling for seniors to “tell them how to end their life sooner.” The baseless claim was later amplified by Sarah Palin and the notion quickly gained steam as the right-wing media echo-chamber championed the idea.

Despite being conclusively debunked as Politifact's “lie of the year” in 2009, conservative media still persist in trumpeting the death panel lie. In 2014, Fox News' Eric Bolling compared the Veteran Affairs health care system to the ACA, citing them as examples of “a big, bureaucratic, government-run health care system.” He concluded, “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.” Rush Limbaugh, Fox's Sean Hannity, and other conservative media outlets trotted out the death panel lie last year as well, in the midst of good news about enrollment and reductions in the nation's rate of uninsured people. 

The death panel falsehood is still reflected in both the public's perception of the health care law as well as the Republican legislative agenda. As Sarah Kliff explained in a March 23 post for Vox, 26 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats still agree that “a government panel helps make decisions about patients' end-of-life care” is “part of the law.”

vox chart

The myth even continues to make its way into GOP legislation critical of the health care law. The Washington Post's Stephen Stromberg noted in a March 22 post that despite having been debunked, “the GOP's death-panel nonsense still has hold on the party” and was “written explicitly” into the House GOP's 2016 budget proposal:

Experts and professional fact-checkers have debunked the notion that the Affordable Care Act would empower a faceless government board to deny critical health-care procedures, the Obama-era equivalent of pushing inconvenient seniors onto ice floes. But the GOP's death-panel nonsense still has a hold on the party, its illogic written explicitly into the House's budget.

“This budget repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), an unelected, unaccountable board of 15 bureaucrats charged with making coverage decisions on Medicare,” the document reads.