There Are Still No “Death Panels”

The Wall Street Journal published today a brief commentary from venture capitalist Tom Perkins on the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force's recent recommendation that the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test for prostate cancer be abandoned. Leaning on a healthy dose of falsehood and ignorance, Perkins dubbed the USPSTF (which he misidentified as the “U.S. Preventative Health Service”) a “death panel,” thus resurrecting the Sarah Palin-born fantasy of cost-conscious passive euthanasia of the elderly.

According to Perkins, the USPSTF recommendation “can rather simply be summed up: Most men eventually get prostate cancer, but most don't die from it; those who do are mostly over 75 years of age, so that ends their continuing burden on the public purse.” This is categorically false. The USPSTF recommendation is focused exclusively on the effectiveness of the treatment and the clinical benefits and/or harms. They state right at the outset: “The USPSTF does not consider the costs of providing a service in this assessment.”

More to the point, a USPSTF recommendation is exactly that: a recommendation. It's non-binding and has no effect on public policy unless policymakers embrace it. And according to CQ HealthBeat, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say that PSA testing will still be covered by Medicare. Sebelius previously rejected a 2009 USPSTF recommendation on mammography.

Wrapping up his commentary, Perkins wrote:

It's hard to avoid a political aside, so I won't try. A healthy market-driven free economy leads to innovation and the development of breakthroughs, like the PSA test. A highly taxed and highly regulated economy leads to “Death Panels,” like the U.S. Preventative Health Service.

Would anyone like to venture a guess as to when the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force was established? 1984. During the lightly taxed and lightly regulated economy of Ronald Reagan.