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RNC perpetuates 'death panels' rumor

From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
As we were putting clips together for First Read, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was on MSNBC's Morning Joe and did nothing to dissuade viewers from believing that so-called "death panels" are in the bills moving their way through Congress.

As Politico writes, "Asked if he thinks there is a 'death panel' provision in the bill -- a suggestion that has been proven untrue and that the White House has spent a week trying to knock down -- Steele said he does not know. 'It may or may not be. I don't know. We don't know what the bill is,' Steele said. 'But there's clearly an attempt by at least the House members to put in place a structure that causes concern for the American people in respect to end of life decisions. I think that's a legitimate point. You don't have to call it death panels if you don't want to. You can call it a panel. I call it rationing.'"

As we've written previously on First Read, including again in First Thoughts this morning -- citing non-partisan fact-checkers -- there are no such "death panels." 

But, reached for a response on Steele's comments, RNC spokeswoman Gail Gitchco not only defended them, but added that "death panels have not been totally debunked."

The RNC, she said, draws a distinction between end-of-life counseling and "comparative effectiveness research," which the RNC claims "leads to government boards deciding what treatments would or wouldn't be funded." The RNC cites portions of an article in the Washington Post and two Wall Street Journal editorials. (Here and here.)

"First, death panels have not been totally debunked," Gitchco told First Read in an email. "Second, Steele didn't call it a death panel. He clearly said that he calls it rationing. Third, everyone is focused on these death panels as 'end of life care.' But what Steele was referring to as rationing was the comparative effectiveness research. Fourth, his point about there not being a bill is spot on -- the Dems do not have a bill in the senate. So, bottom line is that I don't think you have your post quite right."

But FactCheck.org and the Pulitzer-prize winning Politifact have also debunked this specific notion.


As for the health care bills themselves, the House's H.R. 3200 sets up a center to conduct and gather such research within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an entity the CBO called "the most prominent federal agency supporting various types of research on the comparative effectiveness of medical treatments." Like the stimulus legislation, the bill states that: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer."  

Politifact gave Sarah Palin a "Pants on Fire" for saying, in Politifact's words, "Seniors and the disabled '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.'"

Palin also may have also jumped to conclusions about the Obama administration's efforts to promote comparative effectiveness research. Such research has nothing to do with evaluating patients for 'worthiness.' Rather, comparative effectiveness research finds out which treatments work better than others.

The health reform bill being considered in the House of Representatives says that a Comparative Effectiveness Research Center shall 'conduct, support, and synthesize research' that looks at 'outcomes, effectiveness, and appropriateness of health care services and procedures in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically.'