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Fox News Tries To Rehabilitate Palin’s Discredited “Death Panels” Smear

Reported by Ellen - December 27, 2010 -

As The New York Times reported yesterday, the Obama administration has enacted Medicare regulations to include an end-of-life planning provision similar to one struck out of the health care reform bill after Sarah Palin “touched off a political storm over ‘death panels.’” Palin’s “death panels” accusation wasn’t just a lie, it was PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year for 2009. But good ol’ Fox News resuscitated the lie and gave it new life by just “asking” if the new regulations mark the return of death panels. Fortunately, Democratic Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers and liberal pundit Caroline Heldman forcefully rebutted the suggestion.

The possible return of “death panels” was all over Fox News today with segments with such FoxNews.com titles as, ‘Death Panel’ Comeback? Return of Death Panels? and ‘Death Panel’ Deception? The ‘Death Panel’ Comeback? segment, on The O’Reilly Factor, featured Media Matters 2009 Health Care Misinformer of the Year: Betsy McCaughey.

As The Wall Street Journal reported,

The White House on Sunday said the new Medicare directive… doesn't constitute a resurrection of the original health-care-bill language. It said the George W. Bush administration had already put in place guidelines allowing for Medicare to pay for end-of-life consultations.

A Medicare revamp in 2003 created a "welcome to Medicare" visit for seniors newly entering the program to get a checkup. Another law passed in 2008 specifies that the welcome visit can include a discussion of "end-of-life planning."

The health-care overhaul in 2010 turned the welcome visit into an annual "wellness visit," saying seniors could get covered for a checkup every year. The new directive makes clear that the annual wellness visit can include the same end-of-life planning already permitted in the welcome visit.

Reid Cherlin, a White House spokesman, said it was incorrect to suggest the policy of reimbursing end-of-life discussions was new.
"The only thing new here is a regulation allowing the discussions … to happen in the context of the new annual wellness visit created by the Affordable Care Act," said Mr. Cherlin, referring to the health overhaul passed in March.

But substitute host Eric Bolling distorted those details in his introduction to the O’Reilly Factor segment (the first video below). Bolling said, “Now the reports that President Obama is bringing back end of life planning with the Medicare regulation set to go into effect next week. The White House says, ‘No, that’s not true,’ issued a statement blaming a law signed by President Bush. So what’s really going on?” Bolling later said, “Whether or not this was brought up in the Bush Administration, who cares?”

Bolling made no pretense of independence, supposedly a hallmark of The Factor. “I thought we were done with this (death panels)… but they’re back.” Bolling offered no challenge to McCaughey’s misinformation (government will be scripting end-of-life decisions, the Obama administration is enacting via regulation what it could not enact via legislation) but asked her to “take our viewer exactly what this regulation says… It incentivizes them to discuss end-of-life decisions.” To Heldman, he asked, “Do we really need to incentivize doctors to ask Grandma whether she wants to pull the plug year after year after year? Isn’t once enough?”

Heldman, already a News Hounds Top Dog, was in especially good form in the segment.

Kirsten Powers, on the Hannity show, did what is always a smart move for a Democrat on Fox: she reframed the issue. In this case, she put guest host Tucker Carlson on the defensive. Carlson asked why Congressman Blumenauer has asked his supporters to “keep secret this great accomplishment” of the new regulations. Powers let loose:

I don’t know Tucker. Maybe it’s because people like you call them ‘death panels.’ Even though… that was a PolitiFact lie of the year… You’re just scaring old people, Tucker. That’s what’s going on here… You want to be ashamed of it. You’re calling them ‘death panels’ when they’re not… You know this is a completely made up political game that you’re playing.

Of course, it’s more than a little hypocritical for Fox News producers and hosts to be fear mongering about the POSSIBLE coercion of Medicare patients when these same people shrug off the EXISTING 46.3 million Americans lacking health insurance. And where’s the concern that nearly 45,000 die each year in this country because they lack health insurance and can’t get good care? I get the feeling the only lives these people care about are the ones they can use against President Obama.