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Profile: Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey

Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey was a participant or observer in the following events:

Betsy McCaughey.Betsy McCaughey. [Source: Newsday / Gawker (.com)]Elizabeth “Betsy” McCaughey (R-NY), a lawyer and future lieutenant governor of New York, writes a scathing analysis of the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan. The article, “No Exit,” is published in the New Republic, and sparks not only a detailed rebuttal from the Clinton administration, but numerous editorials and responses praising the article and joining in the attack. Echoing McCaughey’s arguments, Newsweek writes, “The plan would reduce the quantity and quality of health care and medical technologies by vastly expanding government’s coercive role.” McCaughey and Newsweek question the proposed creation of a seven-member “National Health Board” which will, she claims, “guess the nation’s health care needs and decree how much the nation may spend meeting them.” According to Newsweek: “Everyone would be locked into one system of low-budget health plans picked by the government. Fifteen presidential appointees, the National Quality Management Council, not you and your doctor, would define the ‘medically necessary’ and ‘appropriate’ care a doctor could give you. Escaping government control to choose your doctor or buy other care would be virtually impossible. Doctors could be paid only by the government-approved plans, at rates set by the government. It would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem ‘necessary.’ Government would define a minimum level of care and herd people in particular regions into dependence on the lowest-cost organization able to deliver that level. Doctors would be driven into organizations in which they would be punished financially for giving more treatment than the organizations’ budget targets permit. The primary care physician assigned to you would be, McCaughey notes, a gatekeeper with an incentive to limit your access to specialists and high-tech medicine. The premise of the Clintons’ plan is not just that government knows best, but that government knows everything relevant, including how many specialists there should be no more than 45 percent of all doctors [sic]. McCaughey says many medical students will be told that the specialties they prefer are closed, or closed to them because they are not the right race or ethnicity. Yes, the plan subordinates medical values to ‘diversity.’” Prescription drug prices would be controlled through the Department of Health and Human Services, and, McCaughey and Newsweek claim, would “certainly suppress research” that might benefit patients of incurable diseases and disorders. (Newsweek 2/7/1994)
Refuting McCaughey - The Clinton administration details the “numerous factual inaccuracies and misleading statements” contained in McCaughey’s article. The administration’s response says that doctors and patients, not “government bureaucrats” or a board of governors, will decide what treatments are “necessary and appropriate.” The government will not decide what treatments are, and are not, provided: “If anything, the ‘necessary and appropriate’ care provision in the bill delegates authority to the medical profession—rather than imposing further government bureaucracy between the patient and the doctor.” The plan will not block Americans from opting into private health care plans just as they do now, nor will it block doctors and hospitals from accepting payments from “non-approved” health care plans. Nor does the plan require doctors and hospitals “to report your visit to a national data bank containing the medical histories of all Americans,” as McCaughey writes. And the so-called “National Health Board” will not “decide how much the nation can spend on health care beginning in 1996,” as McCaughey claims. The plan will not seek to reduce quality of care in the interest of saving money, and it does not contain price controls. (White House 1/31/1994) A year later, author and columnist James Fallows will call the article “a triumph of misinformation,” and refutes McCaughey’s (and others’) claims point by point. (Fallows 1/1995)
Instrumental in Derailing Reform - The article will later be cited by House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as “the first decisive breaking point” in the plan’s initial support; the plan will never be implemented. The article itself will spark tremendous controversy, winning the National Magazine Award while being attacked for being fundamentally inaccurate. (In 2006, the new editor of the New Republic, Franklin Foer, will apologize for his magazine having run the article.) In 2009 McCaughey will be a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute and will soon join the equally conservative Hudson Institute. Both are heavily funded by health care corporations. (Sarlin 5/15/2009)

Betsy McCaughey (R-NY), the former lieutenant governor of New York and a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, writes that health care provisions in the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan will affect “every individual in the United States.” McCaughey writes: “Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors. But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and ‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions.” McCaughey says the provisions are similar to suggestions in the book Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis, by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), until recently Obama’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. McCaughey writes that hospitals and doctors who do not use the system will be punished, by a federal oversight board to be called the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. Perhaps most worrisome is McCaughey’s claim that elderly Americans will be given reduced health care based on their age and expected productivity. “Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost-effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council,” she writes. “The Federal Council is modeled after a UK board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis. In 2006, a UK health board decreed that elderly patients with macular degeneration had to wait until they went blind in one eye before they could get a costly new drug to save the other eye. It took almost three years of public protests before the board reversed its decision.… If the Obama administration’s economic stimulus bill passes the Senate in its current form, seniors in the US will face similar rationing. Defenders of the system say that individuals benefit in younger years and sacrifice later. The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined.” (McCaughey 2/9/2009) McCaughey’s claims are very similar to the ones she made against the Clinton administration’s attempt to reform health care in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). They will be proven false (see July 23, 2009).

Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals.Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals. [Source: Media Matters]The Wall Street Journal, Fox News anchors, conservative Web news purveyor Matt Drudge, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh promulgate a discredited claim by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that the economic recovery bill pending in Congress includes a provision that would have the government “essentially dictate treatments” for sick Americans. McCaughey wrote a commentary for Bloomberg News on February 9 that makes the claim (see February 9, 2009); Drudge and Limbaugh echo and add to the claim the same day. The next day, the Wall Street Journal’s senior economic writer, Stephen Moore, appearing on Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, joins news anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly in promoting the same claim (see October 13, 2009), with Moore saying that the provision would “hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore credits Limbaugh with informing him of the claim, saying: “I just learned of this myself yesterday. In fact, Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of it on his radio show and it just—it caused all sorts of calls into congressional offices.” On February 10, Limbaugh takes credit for spreading the claim, telling listeners: “Betsy McCaughey writing at Bloomberg, I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media. Well, it’s—it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it.” McCaughey is wrong in the claim: according to an analysis of the legislative language by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, “the language in the House bill that McCaughey referenced does not establish authority to ‘monitor treatments’ or restrict what ‘your doctor is doing’ with regard to patient care but, rather, addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients ‘to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.’” Moore says: “[T]his news story really has exploded on the public scene in just the last 24 hours, Bill. We’ve been just inundated with complaints from people about the implications of having the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore later goes on to add that the bill “especially will affect elderly people, because one of the ways, if we move more towards a nationalized health care system, as this bill would move us one step towards that, what you have to do to restrain costs—what many other countries do, like Canada and Britain, is they essentially, Bill, ration care. And they tell patients you are eligible for this kind of care, but this is too expensive. And so what this bill would essentially do is set up a kind of pricing mechanism to tell people, yes, we can afford to treat you for this, but not that.” Moore encourages viewers to “express their outrage over this” before Congress takes the issue up. Kelly adds another false claim: that the bill discourages doctors to act on their own judgment and promotes medical decisions “in the spirit of uniform health care.” Kelly notes, “That sounds dangerously like socialized medicine.” Hemmer also makes the false claim that the legislation contains “rules [that] appear to set the stage for health care rationing for seniors, new limits on medical research, and new rules guiding decisions your doctor can make about your health care.” Hemmer calls the provision a “midnight health care insertion” into the Senate spending bill. (Media Matters 2/10/2009)

The Washington Times spins off a recent op-ed by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to claim that the Obama administration will attempt to save money by euthanizing old people, disabled people, and sickly infants. The editorial begins with the “chilling” idea of a national medical information database that will allow the government to “track… your every visit to a health care provider—where you went, who you saw, what was diagnosed, and what care was provided.” The Obama administration, the Times claims, will use that information to decide which people deserve the more expensive lifesaving treatments and which ones must be denied in the interest of cost efficiency. “If it costs too much to treat you, and you are nearing the end of your life anyway, you may have to do with less, or with nothing,” the Times writes. “You just aren’t worth the cost.… What nondescript GS-11 will be cutting care from Aunt Sophie after her sudden relapse before he or she heads to the food court for some stir fry?” The elderly, the physically and mentally disabled, all “whose health costs are great and whose ability to work productively in the future” will, the Times writes, be allowed to die or even exterminated. So will premature babies, badly wounded soldiers, and others as yet to be determined. The Times again cites Nazi Germany’s “T4 Aktion” program of forcibly euthanizing less productive citizens (see November 23, 2008) as a likely template for the Obama program. (Washington Times 2/11/2009)

Conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas uses a recent editorial by health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to accuse the Obama administration of planning a “euthanasia” program to exterminate hapless Americans. President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, Thomas writes, “means the government will decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t. It is survival of the fittest in practice.” Thomas then writes that the Obama administration’s support of legal abortions will inevitably lead to “euthanasia” of older and less productive citizens. He quotes a 1979 book by theologian Francis Schaeffer and future Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? as saying, “Will a society which has assumed the right to kill infants in the womb—because they are unwanted, imperfect, or merely inconvenient—have difficulty in assuming the right to kill other human beings, especially older adults who are judged unwanted, deemed imperfect physically or mentally, or considered a possible social nuisance?” Thomas then writes, “No one should be surprised at the coming embrace of euthanasia.” Schaeffer and Koop’s prediction that “the next candidates for arbitrary reclassification as nonpersons are the elderly” now “seems to be coming true,” Thomas writes. He also repeats a claim from the 92-year-old Koop that in 1988, he had suffered from an ailment that temporarily paralyzed him. Under Britain’s government-run health care, Koop claims, “I would have been nine years too old to have the surgery that saved my life and gave me another 21 years.” Soon, Thomas writes, “dying will become a patriotic duty when the patient’s balance sheet shows a deficit.” (Thomas 2/18/2009)

House Representative Paul Broun (R-GA—see November 11, 2008) says that the Obama health care reform proposals will kill Americans. On the floor of the House, Broun attacks the idea of a “public option,” described by Congressional Democrats as a government-funded alternative to private health care. Broun says, “[T]his program of ‘government option’ is being touted as being the panacea, the savior of allowing people to have quality health care at an affordable price is gonna kill people.” Broun says that Canada and the United Kingdom, both countries that rely on public health care, “don’t have the appreciation of life as we do in our society.” Progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress notes that both Canada and the UK have both a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US. (Think Progress 7/10/2009) Liberal media watchdog site Media Matters notes that neither the Canadian nor British health care systems serve as models for President Obama’s health care reform proposals. (Media Matters 7/10/2009) Broun’s claims are based in part on health insurance advocate Betsy McCaughey’s warnings that the health care reform proposal will encourage senior citizens to die sooner (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009), warnings that are debunked by the St. Petersburg Times (see July 23, 2009).

Betsy McCaughey, the chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a former Republican lieutenant governor of New York, and a conservative opponent of health care reform, says that under the Obama administration’s reform proposal, elderly Americans would be encouraged to die earlier to save money (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009). On conservative radio host Fred Thompson’s show, she says, “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.” These sessions will help elderly patients learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care… all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009) “These are such sacred issues of life and death. Government should have nothing to do with it.” Thompson calls McCaughey’s claim the “dirty little secret” of the health care reform proposal. (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009; Brown 7/28/2009) In August, progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her listeners: “That is not true at all, not a word of it. Not mandatory, not require, not every five years, not counseling, not tell them, not how to, not end their life. None of the words in that claim are true except maybe the two ‘that’s’ and the word ‘in.’ It’s not true, but it is convenient, and so it survives. And it is in fact being promoted more than ever. It’s convenient for the interests [that oppose] health care reform to scare old people about reform.” (MSNBC 8/12/2009) The next day, McCaughey publishes an op-ed in the New York Post advancing the same arguments. “One troubling provision” of the bill, she writes, “compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years… about alternatives for end-of-life care.… [The] mandate invites abuse, and seniors could easily be pushed to refuse care.” (McCaughey 7/17/2009)
Availability of Discussions Mandated Since 1990 - The provision in question states that as part of an advanced care consultation, an individual and practitioner will have a consultation that includes “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.” Such explanations and consultations have been part of government-provided senior care since 1990; in 2003, the Bush administration issued guidelines for physicians’ discussion of end-of-life care with seniors.
Claims Contradicted - John Rother of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) counters with a statement: “This measure would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves but also better ensure that their wishes are followed. To suggest otherwise is a gross, and even cruel, distortion—especially for any family that has been forced to make the difficult decisions on care for loved ones approaching the end of their lives.” Jon Keyserling of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization adds: “I was surprised that any responsible legislative analyst would indicate this is a mandatory provision. That is just a misreading of the language and, certainly, of the intent.” McCaughey later responds to those statements by repeating her assertions, saying that doctors would “pressure” seniors to accept less costly services that would lead to quicker deaths. (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009; Brown 7/28/2009)
Debunked - McCaughey’s claims will soon be disproven (see July 23, 2009).

Laura Ingraham.Laura Ingraham. [Source: Pat Dollard]Fox News and radio talk show host Sean Hannity tells his radio audience of the op-ed published in the morning’s New York Post by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey, claiming that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would result in senior citizens being advised to end their lives prematurely (see July 16, 2009). Hannity says: “[I]t sounds to me like they’re actually encouraging seniors in the end, ‘Well, you may just want to consider packing it all in here, this is—’ what other way is there to describe this?… So that they don’t become a financial burden on the Obamacare system? I mean that’s how they intend to cut cost, by cutting down on the health care we can give and get at the end of our lives and dramatically cutting it down for senior citizens? You know, welcome to the brave new world of Obamacare. We’re going to encourage, you know, inconvenient people to consider ‘alternatives to living.’” The same day, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells her listeners: “Can you imagine—if I were doing Saturday Night Live, like, if I were producing it this weekend, and I was going to be fair about political humor, I would have a hospice chute—like a door, a trap door that goes into a chute where the elderly would just walk up—‘Oh, my hip hurts.’ And all of a sudden you see this leg kicking granny down the chute, and that’s Obamacare.” She continues by making a veiled reference to Nazi concentration camps: “[S]ome will call them death camps, but this is the way Obamacare is gonna go for America.” And on the same day, conservative radio hosts Jim Quinn and Rose Tennent echo Hannity and Ingraham’s claims. Quinn says, “[T]here’s a drop dead date, you should pardon the expression but a lot of us are going to—” Tennent interjects, “Are going to drop dead, yeah.” Quinn then adds, “For heaven’s sakes, this is the death-to-old-people plan.” (Media Matters 7/17/2009)

PolitiFact logo.PolitiFact logo. [Source: Yahoo! Buzz]The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks the recent spate of claims by Betsy McCaughey (R-NY) that the Obama health care reform proposal would mandate ‘death counseling’ (see July 16, 2009) and encourage seniors to die sooner to save money (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Days later, the Annenberg Political FactCheck organization will come to the same conclusions.
'Advance Care Planning Consultation' - According to HR 3200, the latest version of the health care reform legislation, the relevant section is entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” This details how Medicare would pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. According to the legislation: “such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.” Medicare will pay for one such session every five years, and will pay for interim sessions if a Medicare recipient’s health worsens in between those five-year sessions. Jon Keyserling, general counsel and vice president of public policy for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which supports the provision, says the bill does not encourage seniors to end their lives, it just allows some important counseling for decisions that take time and consideration. “These are very serious conversations,” he says. “It needs to be an informative conversation from the medical side and it needs to be thought about carefully by the patient and their families.” According to Jim Dau of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the legislation does not encourage patients to end their lives. Dau says McCaughey’s claims are “not just wrong, they are cruel.” He adds: “We want to make sure people are making the right decision. If some one wants to take every life-saving measure, that’s their call. Others will decide it’s not worth going through this trauma just for themselves and their families, and that’s their decision, too.” Keyserling says it is clear to him and his organization’s lawyers that such end-of-life counseling sessions are purely voluntary, like everything in Medicare. “The only thing mandatory is that Medicare will have to pay for the counseling,” says Dau. A press release from the AARP says that McCaughey’s characterization of the health care bill is “rife with gross—and even cruel—distortions.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009; Henig 7/29/2009)
'Scare Tactics' - The St. Petersburg Times concludes: “For our ruling on this one, there’s really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would ‘tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner’ is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn’t just wrong, she’s spreading a ridiculous falsehood.” (St. Petersburg Times 7/23/2009) The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, will write: “In truth, that section of the bill would require Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care, including designating a health care proxy, choosing a hospice, and making decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It would not require doctors to counsel that their patients refuse medical intervention.” The organization will note that inflammatory “chain e-mails” are making the rounds making claims such as: “On Page 425 of Obama’s health care bill, the federal government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every five years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes.… They are going to push SUICIDE to cut medicare spending!!!” FactCheck will respond: “In fact, [the part of the bill cited on p. 425] requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices—including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would ‘push suicide’ is a falsehood.” FactCheck will find that McCaughey “misrepresent[ed]” the bill in her claims, and she and other health care reform opponents are resorting to “scare tactics” to try to defeat the legislation. (Henig 7/29/2009)

Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York and a lobbyist for the health care industry, writes two frightening op-eds, one for the Wall Street Journal and one for the New York Post, that make false claims about the Democrats’ health care reform package. In the Journal, she claims that the bill contains a provision that would “pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely,” a claim she has made before (see July 16, 2009). In the Post, she goes much farther, claiming that two of President Obama’s top health care advisers favor denying expensive health care treatments to senior citizens, the mentally disabled, and other “less productive” members of American society. She names Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist, the health care adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a member of the Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. She cites a 2008 article by Emanuel in the American Medical Association’s journal, where he wrote that some doctors sometimes go too far, construing the Hippocratic Oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others.” McCaughey takes Emanuel’s words and accuses him of wanting “doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else. Many doctors are horrified by this notion; they’ll tell you that a doctor’s job is to achieve social justice one patient at a time.” McCaughey states that Emanuel believes “medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens…’ Translation: Don’t give much care to a grandmother with Parkinson’s or a child with cerebral palsy.” She also claims that Emanuel “explicitly” advocated denying health care to senior citizens in favor of providing treatment to younger patients. McCaughey claims that both Emanuel and Dr. David Blumenthal, the White House’s national coordinator of health information technology, favor “slowing medical innovation to control health spending” and denying patients access to advanced medical technology. According to McCaughey, Blumenthal also favors letting “computers tell… doctors what to do.” She concludes: “No one has leveled with the public about these dangerous views.… Do we want a ‘reform’ that empowers people like this to decide for us?” (McCaughey 7/23/2009; McCaughey 7/24/2009) A White House official later notes that McCaughey misrepresented Emanuel’s writings, and that Emanuel was describing positions and beliefs that he opposed in the same articles. ABC News’s Jake Tapper will note that Emanuel’s fellow doctors and medical ethicists know him as a fervent advocate of the rights of dying patients. (Tapper 7/28/2009) And Emanuel himself will rebut McCaughey’s claims (see August 12, 2009). McCaughey’s previous claims about the dangers of health care reform, including her assertion that reform would encourage doctors to let senior citizens die, have been roundly debunked (see July 23, 2009).

Slate reporter and columnist Christopher Beam coins a new term, “deathers,” to label conservatives who are spreading the debunked rumors that President Barack Obama’s health care proposals would kill old people (see July 16, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Beam publishes his article on the same day that Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) claims that under Obama’s reforms, seniors would be “put to death” (see July 28, 2009), and that Obama holds a “town hall” meeting where he debunks this and other rumors surrounding his proposals (see July 28, 2009). The claim apparently originated with lobbyist and lawyer Betsy McCaughey (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), who used similarly questionable claims to derail the 1994 reform proposals by the Clinton administration (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Others have made similar assertions; Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) recently warned that Obama’s reform proposals would “kill people” (see July 10, 2009), and conservative commentator and author Charlotte Allen says: “Obama’s not going to say, ‘Let’s kill them.’ But he seems to be perfectly comfortable with the idea that a lot more old people are going to die a lot sooner.”
End-of-Life Consultations - Beam shows that the language of the bill, as it stands in Congress at this time, provides for “end-of-life consultations” between patients and doctors, if the patients wish them. In those consultations, doctors would explain what kind of services are available to those patients—palliative care and hospices, in-home care, more intensive treatments in a hospital, etc.—but would not tell patients that they had to restrict themselves to less intensive treatments that would shorten their lives. Some “deathers” have also insisted that the bill provides for the withholding of “artificially administered nutrition and hydration.” McCaughey is a vocal proponent of this claim. However, such a choice would have to be made by the patient and/or the family, specifically not a doctor.
Shared Decision-Making - Opponents of health care reform such as McCaughey claim that the House bill would “coerce” seniors into taking part in a program that forces them into making decisions about “trade-offs among treatment options,” or takes the final decision-making power away from them and places it in the hands of doctors or government officials. In reality, the bill would provide an informational tool for patients and families to make informed decisions. No coercion could legally be applied.
Obama Staffers Cause Concern - Some of Obama’s staffers have said and written things that cause consternation among reform opponents (see July 23-24, 2009). One of Obama’s senior health care advisers, Ezekiel Emanuel, who serves as health policy adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wrote in 2008 that doctors too often interpret the Hippocratic oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others,” leading some to wonder if Emanuel would put cost concerns over patients’ needs; others have gone farther, comparing Emanuel to Nazi doctors and of advocating “eugenics.” In 1977, Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, joined two other authors in writing about possible methods of population control, including a speculative bit about sterilizing people by introducing chemicals into the water supply. (ABC News later reports that the controversial passage was from a textbook in which various methods of population control were considered and rejected. Holdren recently released a statement saying that population control is not the government’s job; his statements on the matter passed muster in the Senate Commerce Committee, whose Republican members joined Democrats in unanimously approving his nomination as the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.) And some worry that the proposed Independent Medicare Advisory Council, which would oversee cost containment for Medicare, would be staffed, in Allen’s words, with “a certain class of secularized intellectuals” who might put cost concerns over quality of life. (Beam 7/28/2009; Tapper 7/28/2009)

Progressive author and columnist Joe Conason writes that if the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care fails, “much of the blame rests on our political culture’s empowerment of deception and ignorance. Fake erudition is revered, every hoax is deemed brilliant, and prejudice is presented as knowledge—while actual expertise is disregarded or devalued.” Conason points to two conservative commentators as primary founts of destructive misinformation: neoconservative publisher and cable news pundit William Kristol, and health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), whom Conason names as “the right-wing celebrities who worked so hard to kill the Clinton reform plan” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Conason labels McCaughey as “the source of the ‘elderly euthanasia’ hoax now circulating on the Internet, talk radio, and in right-wing media, which claims that Democratic health bills will force old, ill Medicare recipients into making plans for their own deaths” (see July 28, 2009). A thorough debunking of her claims by a variety of Congressional and media sources (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and Late July, 2009) has done little to derail the impact on the media, and on the citizenry, that McCaughey’s claims are having. McCaughey’s falsehoods are being heavily, and effectively, promoted by Kristol and other conservative pundits (see July 17, 2009) on Fox News and other media outlets. Conason notes that Kristol, interviewed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, admitted that the government provides “first-class” healthcare to American soldiers and senior citizens (in the form of the Veterans Administration and Medicare) before trying, and failing, to back away from the admission. (Conason 7/31/2009)

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a senior health care adviser in the Obama administration, rebuts claims that he is a “deadly doctor” who advocates wholesale euthanasia for America’s senior citizens (see July 23-24, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 7, 2009). Emanuel, a medical ethicist, does not own a television or have an Internet connection and so remained unaware of the accusations about his medical beliefs for weeks. “I couldn’t believe this was happening to me,” he says. Both Emanuel and Time reporter Michael Scherer point out that Emanuel has worked throughout his career to oppose euthanasia and increase care for dying patients. “It is incredible how much one’s reputation can be besmirched and taken out of context,” Emanuel says. Scherer notes that the New York Post op-ed by Betsy McCaughey (see July 23-24, 2009) used “selective and misleading quotes from Emanuel’s 200 or so published academic papers,” and soon “went viral” on the Internet and among conservative opponents of health care reform. Scherer writes: “The attacks on Emanuel are a reminder that there is a narrow slice of Americans who not only don’t trust government, but also have come to regard it as a dark conspirator in their lives. This peculiar brand of distrust helps create the conditions for fast-moving fear-mongering, especially on complex and emotionally charged topics like the life and death of the elderly and infirm.” Scherer notes that throughout his career, Emanuel has wrestled with the ethics of medical care, often wading into horrific hypothetical situations such as how to choose who gets a single kidney if there are three dying patients in need of it and no way to procure two others. “No one who has read what I have done for 25 years would come to the conclusions that have been put out there,” says Emanuel. (Scherer 8/12/2009)

Representative John Mica (R-FL) tells listeners of Florida’s WDBO-AM that the idea of “death counselors” actually exists in the Democrats’ health care reform package. “They create a whole new category,” Mica says. “There are death counselors. There is authorization for reimbursement for those counselors for Medicare. You have a whole new cottage industry.” Mica’s idea, apparently sparked by debunked claims by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey, among others (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 12, 2009), actually refers to the legislation’s provision that Medicare would pay for “advanced care planning consultations” for elderly and seriously ill patients (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009). (Hazen 8/12/2009; Jilani 8/12/2009)

Betsy McCaughey is interviewed by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show.’Betsy McCaughey is interviewed by Jon Stewart of ‘The Daily Show.’ [Source: Media Matters]Health care reform opponent Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009) appears on Comedy Central’s satirical news/comedy broadcast, The Daily Show. Host Jon Stewart devotes twice the usual amount of air time to interviewing McCaughey, and even then the interview is not broadcast in its entirety; Comedy Central posts the entire interview on its Web site. Stewart’s main interview tactic is to challenge McCaughey to prove one claim or another, such as her assertion that the health care reform legislation pending in the House would mandate “death panels” or “end-of-life” review committees; McCaughey then tries and fails to find language in the bill itself, and Stewart chastises her for spreading falsehoods. Late in the interview, Stewart calls McCaughey’s rhetoric “hyperbolic” and “dangerous.” (Comedy Central 8/20/2009; Comedy Central 8/20/2009; Media Matters 8/21/2009; Linkins 8/21/2009) He concludes by telling her, “I like you—but I don’t understand how your brain works.” (Koppelman 8/21/2009) In an analysis of the interview, The Atlantic’s James Fallows, who lambasted McCaughey’s 1994 arguments against the Clinton administration’s health care reform efforts (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994), says he realizes after watching the interview that “I have been far too soft on Betsy McCaughey. Even when conferring on her the title of ‘most destructive effect on public discourse by a single person’ for the 1990s. She is way less responsible and tethered to the world of ‘normal’ facts and discourse than I had imagined.” Fallows writes that McCaughey succeeds as well as she does in the interview by ignoring Stewart’s points and rebuttals, and echoing her assertions even after Stewart effectively rebuts or mocks them. (Fallows 8/21/2009) Days later, McCaughey will be removed from her position as a director of Cantel Medical Corporation, in part apparently due to her performance on Stewart’s show (see August 20-21, 2009).

Health care opponent Betsy McCaughey either resigns, or is fired, from her post as a director of Cantel Medical Corporation. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow announces that McCaughey is fired; other sources report that she resigned voluntarily. Many media observers believe that part of the reason behind her departure is her poor performance on a recent interview with The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart (see August 20, 2009). McCaughey retains her position as an adjunct fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, where she has consistently lobbied against health care reform and promoted issues favorable to health care and health insurance firms. In a press statement, Cantel says that “on August 20, 2009 it received a letter of resignation from Ms. Elizabeth McCaughey as a director of the company. Ms. McCaughey, who had served as a director since 2005, stated that she was resigning to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest during the national debate over health care reform.” (Yahoo! Finance 8/21/2009; Stock Market Today 8/22/2009)

The progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters releases the results of an analysis it has performed on Fox News’s claims to be an objective news provider. According to Media Matters, Fox News’s news reporting (as opposed to its commentary) is permeated with conservative slant, spin, and outright falsehoods. The Media Matters analysis, which restricts itself to material broadcast in 2009, is prompted by White House claims that Fox News is not an objective source of news, but a purveyor of Republican- and conservative-sourced propaganda (see October 11, 2009). (Media Matters 10/13/2009)
Anchors Echoed False Health Care Claims - In February, Fox News anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly echoed a false claim made by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that a legislative provision in a Senate spending bill would empower the government to “dictate treatments” doctors can provide for patients (see February 9-10, 2009).
Anchor Echoed Republican Press Release So Closely that Typo Is Repeated - Also in February, Fox News anchor Jon Scott repeated the claims of a Senate Republican Communications Center press release so closely that the on-air graphics repeated a typographical error from the original document (see February 10, 2009). Scott did not acknowledge the source of the research, even after apologizing for the typo.
News Show Passed Off Seven-Month-Old Video Clip as New to Claim White House Hypocrisy - On March 15, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum used video clips of Vice President Joseph Biden to falsely assert that the administration’s economic message had drastically changed since the election, from negative characterizations to positive assertions. MacCallum did not tell the audience that the clip of Biden was a seven-month-old clip from the presidential campaign, and that the words Biden was speaking were his characterization of Republican candidate John McCain’s perceptions (see March 16-17, 2009).
Anchor Promoted, Praised 'Tea Parties' - Several times in March and April, Hemmer, the host of Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, hosted segments promoting and praising the upcoming April 15 “tea party” protests (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, and April 13-15, 2009).
Labeled GOP Op-Ed Claims as 'Facts' - On April 1, Scott repeated claims made by a Republican congressman in an editorial about the GOP’s “alternative budget” almost verbatim, but labelled them “facts” (see April 1, 2009).
Fox Repeated Discredited GOP Claims about Price of 'Cap-and-Trade' Proposal - On April 1 and 2, anchors Eric Shawn and Alisyn Camerota repeated a disproven claim that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” emissions control proposal would cost American households over $3,000 per year. They did not report that the claim had been disproven (see April 1-6, 2009).
Obama Budget '4X Bigger' Than Bush Budgets - On April 3, Hemmer’s America’s Newsroom displayed an on-air “chyron” that falsely claimed President Obama’s 2010 budget proposal was four times larger than the largest budget submitted by former President Bush (see April 3, 2009).
News Anchors Promoted 'Tea Parties' - On April 15, Fox anchors joined opinion commentators in touting the day’s “tea party” protests (see April 15, 2009). The next day, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly admitted that the network gave the protests “PR” coverage (see April 16, 2009).
Correspondent Used GOP Research to Criticize Democratic Spending - On April 23, Hemmer used research by Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) to “expose” several “wasteful” projects funded by the Democrats’ economic stimulus act, without revealing the source of the research to his audience (see April 23, 2009).
Correspondent Claimed Legislation Would Curb Religious Expression - On April 29, Fox News correspondent Molly Henneberg repeated disproven claims that a pending hate crimes bill would interfere with Americans’ right to religious expression (see April 29, 2009).
News Anchor Accused Democrats of Defending Pedophiles - On May 6, Hemmer falsely accused Congressional Democrats of voting to extend “hate crimes” protection to pedophiles (see May 5-6, 2009).
News Anchor Accused Supreme Court Nominee of 'Reverse Racism' - On May 26, Kelly misrepresented a remark by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to accuse her of “reverse racism” (see May 26, 2009).
Misleading Editing to Bolster Obama 'Apology Tour' Claim - On June 2, Fox anchors Scott and Jane Skinner aired selectively edited clips of a speech by Obama in France to falsely claim that the president had nothing but criticism for the US while in Europe. They then asked if Obama intended to embark on a second “apology tour” (see June 2, 2009). On July 30, The Live Desk guest host Gregg Jarrett told viewers that a recent decision by the Obama Justice Department may have meant that it was permissible for blacks to intimidate whites at the voting booth, but not the other way around (see July 30, 2009).
News Anchor Reported False Allegation of Criminal Activity by Obama Official - On October 1, Hemmer reported that Education Department official Kevin Jennings covered up the crime of statutory rape. The allegation had been disproven five years before (see September 28 - October 1, 2009). (Media Matters 10/13/2009)


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