Palin’s ‘death panel’ claim rises from the grave

Posted June 25, 2012, at 8:40 p.m.

LOS ANGELES — It worked so well in 2009 as a way of marshaling opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care reform law that Sarah Palin has revived her widely debunked claim that the law will create “death panels” to determine which citizens are worthy of health care.

In a Facebook post Monday timed to take advantage of the widespread focus on the Supreme Court’s expected ruling on the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act later this week, Palin wrote, “I reiterate what I wrote in my first post on this topic nearly three years ago. I stand by everything I wrote in that warning to my fellow Americans because what was true then is true now, and it will remain true as we hear what the Supreme Court has to say.”

In 2009, Palin conjured the image of faceless government drones wielding life-and-death power over helpless patients.

“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 wrote as the law was being debated. “Such a system is downright evil.” (It is not clear why she put the phrase “level of productivity in society” in quotes. That phrase does not exist in the bill.)

Such a system also, according to most health experts, exists only in the imagination of Palin and others who took up the phrase as a cudgel against the bill, which ultimately passed with no Republican support and was signed into law by Obama in March 2010.

The former Alaska governor is ready to have the last word.

“Though I was called a liar for calling it like it is, many of these accusers finally saw that Obamacare did in fact create a panel of faceless bureaucrats who have the power to make life and death decisions about health care funding,” she wrote on Facebook Monday. “It’s called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), and its purpose all along has been to ‘keep costs down’ by actually denying care via price controls and typically inefficient bureaucracy.”

The IPAB, as spelled out in the Affordable Care Act, will create a 15-member panel of health experts, appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. According to an essay in the New England Journal of Medicine, the panel will be charged with ensuring that Medicare expenses stay within limits set by the health care reform law, and must also recommend to Congress how to control health care costs.

Palin’s rationale for claiming the creation of “death panels” seems to have shifted over time.

Originally, she coined the term based on a component of the health care reform bill that would have allowed Medicare to cover end-of-life counseling by physicians, though that regulation was abandoned by the Obama administration in January 2011.

Regardless of Palin’s rationale, her phrase gave voice to a deep-seated fear. And despite “death panels” being named 2009 “Lie of the Year” by PolitiFact, the fact-checking project of the Tampa Bay Times, the phrase continues to resonate with many who oppose the health care law.

©2012 Los Angeles Times

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