The Originator of the “Death Panel” Meme Is Back!

So last week I reported that Medicare was again proposing a distinct reimbursement account for end-of-life counseling–the Obamacare provision that inspired the “death panel” lie–and wondered who would succeed to Sarah Palin’s demagogic role in scaring seniors about it?

We don’t have an answer just yet as to the politician who will take up that ragged banner, but the “wonk” who invented the whole damn “death panel” meme is back at it: Betsy McCaughey, a long-time conservative agitator on health care issues (viz. her famous 1994 TNR piece attacking the Clinton health reform proposal, for which the magazine later apologized) and also one-term Republican Lieutenant Governor of New York under George Pataki. Like Pataki, she just won’t go away, as evidenced by an op-ed she wrote today at the New York Post claiming the dreaded death panels are back!

The op-ed provides a good, compact demonstration of McCaughey’s tactics on this subject: treating end-of-life counseling as nothing more than a subsidy for the hospice industry; conflating medical directives with termination of treatment; and taking Institute of Medicine recommendations on how to compensate doctors for end-of-life counseling as public policy. And so she briskly moves from what is a provision to reimburse purely voluntary counseling on a purely voluntary decision that could lead to continued treatment as well as palliative care as a shove into the graveyard for poor befuddled seniors–all for money! You’d think she would have the decency to acknowledge that an awful lot of money’s being made by doctors and hospitals that continue treatment beyond what sick people and their families actually want…but I guess the profit motive is only evil when patients don’t do as McCaughey (and her antichoice allies who have decided this is about “euthanasia”) says.

In any event, McCaughey’s clearly available as an adviser and Fox News validator for anyone who wants to revive the death panel meme, which helped make Michele Bachmann a briefly viable presidential candidate and gave La Pasionaria of the Permafrost her most audacious moment of influence. It’s all there for the asking.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.