Fox News wants you to know: the so-called death panels are not dead.
They're not real either, but Fox's Jamie Colby sitting in for host Greta Van Susteren still cautioned her guest on Friday's broadcast that "granny is watching."
Adriel Bettelheim, a White House correspondent with CQ Politics, calmly panned the suggestion.
"I really wanna know," said host Jamie Colby. "End-of-life counseling as it stands in this 1,990-page proposal: does it mean pulling the plug on granny if the government decides?"
"The House Democrats who wrote the bill don't think so," Bettelheim said. "They say this is a necessary thing because families encounter end-of-life situations when a person becomes incapacitated and can't convey their wishes."
The months-old "death panel" claim became a GOP talking point over the summer as town hall meetings full of angry protesters dominated the media. It has been debunked repeatedly.
The "death panel" allegedly included in the House health reform bill is, as Bettelheim pointed out, actually coverage for end-of-life counseling. For instance, the measure would provide financial coverage should an ailing patient need an attorney to formulate a will, or a doctor's appointment to set out specific orders for their care.
The person credited with inventing the “death panel” claim actually worked with tobacco giant Phillip Morris to railroad health care reform during the Clinton administration, Rolling Stone reported earlier this month.
Betsy McCaughey, a conservative columnist and former deputy governor of New York, was credited by ABC News earlier this summer as being the person behind the “death panel” falsehood. The claim apparently emerged during a a July appearance on Fred Thompson's radio show, where McCaughey claimed that health care reform is “a vicious assault on elderly people, all to … cut your life short.”
Daily Show host Jon Stewart famously confronted McCaughey on his program, correcting her statement that end-of-life consultations would be "mandatory." When she failed to prove her allegation by providing the passage in the legislation, McCaughey suggested that doctors who do not give such counseling would be penalized.
Stewart quickly corrected her. “That is not in in any way what this [legislation] said.”
On Van Susteren's program, Bettelheim stuck to a non-alarmist tone.
"The government already requires doctors who accept Medicare patients to at least tell the patients they have the option to execute [certain legal] documents," he said. "What this bill would do is take things one step further by ordering Medicare to pay once every five years, should the beneficiary want to have these consultations with a doctor or another health counselor. So, basically it's a payment mechanism for these sort of consultations."
The host was practically agasp.
"But, the uproar!" Colby said. "Not only from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who likened them to 'death panels' -- many people felt that's exactly what it was, that the government was saying, if you have a disease that is too expensive to treat, at some point the doctor could give you this counseling and say, 'Sorry, time's up.' There's a lot of concern about this. Why were Democrats so set on having this be a part of this proposal?"
"... They felt like this was a legitimate issue as they expand Medicare coverage, expand government involvement in the health care system," Bettelheim replied. "... I think they felt that the fuss that was kicked up during the August town hall meetings kind of backfired ... That it drew attention to a legitimate problem that a lot of families have and they think that in the big scheme of things, a lot of Americans will support this."
Nearly 50 million Americans do not have health insurance. According to a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health, approximately 45,000 die each year because they do not carry a policy. The study also found that uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher death risk than their privately-insured counterparts. Researchers specifically noted the lack of health insurance now kills more American adults than kidney disease.
Additionally, a Johns Hopkins Children's Center study published in October found that a lack of health insurance led to the deaths of over 17,000 children over the last 20 years.
"If you are a child without insurance, if you're seriously ill and end up in the hospital, you are 60 percent more likely to die than the sick child in the next town who has insurance," said Fizan Abdullah, lead writer of the study and a pediatric surgeon at Hopkins.
Democratic lawmakers say their health reform bill would extend insurance to nearly all Americans.
This video is from Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, broadcast October 30, 2009.
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A prior version of this story incorrectly attributed comments made by the sit-in host of the Greta Van Susteren's show to Van Susteren, who was out of the country at the time.