It's Never a Bad Time for an Obamacare Death Panel Debunking

On Monday Mark Halperin, Time magazine's senior political analyst and co-author of Double Down, sorta screwed up when he said that the Affordable Care Act's death panels were real, and part of the law.

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On Monday Mark Halperin, Time magazine's senior political analyst and co-author of Double Down, sorta screwed up when he said that the Affordable Care Act's death panels were real, and part of the law. He was wrong. Halperin doubled down on Sarah Palin's geriatric dystopian nightmare during an interview with the conservative outlet Newsmax's Steve Malzberg. Here's a transcript via Poor Richard's News:

Malzberg: I think they focused on the death panels which will be coming, call them what you will. Rationing is part of it.

Halperin: I agree. Huge. It’s going to be a huge issue, and that’s something else about which the President was not fully forthcoming and straightforward.

Malzberg: Alright, so you believe that there will be rationing, AKA death panels.

Halperin: It’s built into the plan. It’s not like a guess or like a judgment. That’s going to be part of how costs are controlled.

That is wrong. Incorrect. Not accurate. False. It's literally the complete opposite of what is actually "built into the plan" in Section 3403, the Independent Medicare Advisory Board section (also known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board), which reads:

That's referring to the proposals to cut Medicare spending that the board will be charged with providing. We looked, and there's no death panel section.

This just goes to show that no matter how many times death panels have been debunked, no matter how long ago it won Politifact's Lie of the Year (2009), it's never a bad time to remind people that death panels don't exist.

The myth: Obama's death panels decide who lives and dies

On August 7, 2009 Sarah Palin, less than a month after she resigned as governor of Alaska, posted this on her Facebook page:

And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which 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.

She then goes on to cite Michele Bachmann. Her comment won "Lie of the Year" by a landslide, even though that was the same year rumors of the president being born in Kenya were big. As mentioned above, Obamacare does not ration care.  According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Advisory Board is "an expert body charged with developing and submitting proposals to slow the growth of Medicare and private health care spending and improve the quality of care." There's no mention of death panels. The board will be made up of "physicians and other health professionals, experts in health finance, health services researchers, employers, and representatives of consumers and the elderly," not Obama's bureaucrats.

The real concern here is a fear that Obamacare will encourage euthanasia. Whereas now health care talking points focus on costs for middle-class Americans, the concern then was that Obama would decide who lives and dies, and also force people to go to counseling sessions telling them how to end their lives faster.

The myth: Mandatory counseling on when to pull the plug on Grandma

A month earlier, Betsy McCaughey, a conservative and former New York lieutenant governor, said Democrats planned on mandating counseling that would help people euthanize themselves, according to Politifact"Congress would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner," she said. 

As explained in August 2009, Medicare can now reimburse people for, as Obama put it, "consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera." In other words, for seniors who were already paying for and receiving those consultations, their insurance would now cover it.

Still, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley ran with the death motif, and during a speech in August 2009, said: “In the House bill, there is counseling for end of life,” Grassley said, according to the Iowa Independent. “You have every right to fear. You shouldn’t have counseling at the end of life, you should have done that 20 years before. Should not have a government run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma." Not only does that require you to predict your death by two decades and plan accordingly, it's also false.

Myth: Sarah Palin was right, and even Democrats agree with her

In September, Talking Points Memo posted Sarah Palin's rockin', grizzly bear roarin' video about how she was vilified for speaking up about the death panels (mocked might be a better word), but now a few Democrats are coming around to her side.

Five Democratic congress members sided with Republicans to repeal the Advisory Board because they believed it would limit care for seniors. As Mother Jones pointed out, all five are facing tough re-election campaigns and, more importantly, that's not accurate — the Advisory Board can recommend cuts that would affect that physician reimbursement rates or the cost of specific medications. It doesn't affect medical care.

And that's where Howard Dean, former chair of the Democratic National committee comes in. He's the centerpiece in Palin's Toldja video. Dean wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing against the Advisory Board in July. The phrase "death panels" never comes into play — he just thinks it won't help, which makes sense, given that he's a lobbyist for a firm that works with the healthcare industry. So even if some Democrats aren't voting for the Board that still doesn't mean Sarah Palin was right. Unless, of course, you're Mark Halperin.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.