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Republican National Committee Chair Revives Death Panel Smear Against Obamacare

By Ian Millhiser

"Republican National Committee Chair Revives Death Panel Smear Against Obamacare"

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On Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union invited Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus to offer what turned out to be little more than a dump of Republican talking points opposing the Affordable Care Act. Obamacare is “European, socialist style-type health care,” Priebus told CNN. He even claimed that Republicans — who have now voted to repeal Obamacare’s protections for people with preexisting conditions 40 different times — are the true defenders of people who are unable to obtain health insurance without health reform. And then he dropped the death panels line — “what people don’t want are government panels deciding whether something’s medically necessary.” Watch it:

Priebus’ decision to drop this line without any context whatsoever represents an innovation in Republican messaging against providing health care to millions of Americans. The “death panel” smear originally emerged on former half-term Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-AK) Facebook page, and was widely viewed at the time as an attack on a bipartisan proposal to enable Medicare to cover voluntary end-of-life counseling. After that proposal was dropped from the bill that ultimately became the Affordable Care Act, several Republicans — including Palin once again — retconned the term “death panels” to refer to a cost-cutting measure known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board or IPAB.

Although the IPAB is empowered to take some measures to bring down Medicare costs if those costs grow faster than a certain rate, it is expressly forbidden to take any action that might qualify as rationing care. Under the Affordable Care Act, no proposal generated by the IPAB may include “any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums under section 1818, 1818A, or 1839, increase Medicare beneficiary cost sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and co-payments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.” Moreover, it is not at all clear that the IPAB will do anything at all, because Medicare costs are currently not growing fast enough to trigger the IPAB’s authority.

So the first provision Republicans labeled as a “death panel” wasn’t actually a death panel, and it didn’t even make it into the law itself. The second provision they labeled a “death panel” also isn’t a death panel, and it may not actually do anything at all. Four years after Sarah Palin invented this canard, the Republican National Committee Chair is reduced to simply asserting, without context or explanation, that death panels exist — and hoping someone out there will still believe him.

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