Media conservatives fearmonger that nonbinding health guidelines foreshadow government rationing

››› ››› KATE CONWAY

Responding to a task force recommending that fewer women younger than 50 receive regular mammograms, media conservatives have relentlessly fearmongered that the recommendations represent a precursor to government rationing under health care reform, with Rush Limbaugh claiming, "You might even say that we've got death panels going on here." But their fearmongering is undermined by the fact that the recommendations are not legally binding on health care providers or insurers; moreover, the fact that the task force has previously issued recommendations against certain preventive screenings during the Bush administration belies the claim that this is in any way related to health care reform.

Media conservatives fearmonger: Task force recommendations are part of government rationing under health care reform

On Beck, Fox's Ablow claims, "You think ... this health care plan isn't gonna start monkeying around with what kind of preventive care is necessary to save some money? Of course they are." Discussing the task force findings on Glenn Beck's radio show, Fox News contributor Keith Ablow stated, "You think that socialized medicine, that this health care plan isn't gonna start monkeying around with what kind of preventive care is necessary to save some money? Of course they are." Beck then declared it "[b]ullcrap" that this was not rationing.

From the November 17 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Program:

ABLOW: Then, look, here's another example. You know, they now raised the breast cancer age where you're supposed to get mammograms -- you think this is disconnected -- to 50. Don't do it at 40, do it at 50. You think that socialized medicine, that this health care plan isn't gonna start monkeying around with what kind of preventive care is necessary to save some money? Of course they are.

BECK: They're denying now that this is -- has anything to do with rationing. Bullcrap.

ABLOW: Baloney. Of course it does. Listen, ask -- I talked to three doctors today, "Hey, just out of curiosity, guys, are your wives gonna start going in, still, even though they're 42, 44, and 46?" "Oh, yeah, they are. Yeah. Even if we heave to pay for it," they say.

BECK: And you will.

Limbaugh: "Hello, Obamacare! Here you have a government panel upping the age of mammograms to 50. This is the beginning of rationed care." Discussing the task force's decision on his November 17 radio program, Rush Limbaugh stated, "Hello, Obamacare! Here you have a government panel upping the age of mammograms to 50. This is the beginning of rationed care. Obamacare. And he's out there, ladies and gentlemen, talking about the poor discrimination that women face, brutes of men they have to deal with in the United States."

Limbaugh: "You might even say that we've got death panels going on here." During the November 18 edition of his radio show, Limbaugh again discussed the recommendations and stated, "You might even say that we've got death panels going on here."

Hannity: "[T]his is where the greatest danger lies with government health care." Responding to a caller to his November 17 radio show who discussed reports of the task force's recommendations, Sean Hannity stated, "I've said many, many times on this program that, you know -- look at what the government rationing body in Great Britain did for women with advanced breast cancer. They were denied the drugs that could possibly save their lives. Because, why? The government couldn't afford it. And this is the real -- this is where the greatest danger lies with government health care."

Fox's Siegel: Task force recommendations "absolutely" about health care reform. During the November 17 edition of Fox News' The Live Desk, co-host Martha MacCallum asked Fox News contributor Dr. Marc Siegel, "You hinted at something that I want to just close with here. Are you suggesting that there's a link between health care reform and the battle to bring down costs overall and the decision to tell women not to get mammograms?" Siegel responded, "Well, absolutely," and, "[T]his kind of health reform is not what we need. We have the technology and quality of care in the United States. We don't need to see it sacrificed."

Rationing claim undermined: Task force recommendations not legally binding

Task force did not recommend blanket ban on mammograms for women under 50. The task force issued a grade C recommendation "against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years" and stated that "[t]he decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take into account patient context, including the patient's values regarding specific benefits and harms." As a grade C recommendation, clinicians are counseled to "[o]ffer or provide this service only if other considerations support the offering or providing the service in an individual patient."

Task force encouraged policymakers to include additional considerations and "individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation." In publishing its updated recommendations in The Annals of Internal Medicine, the task force acknowledged that other considerations should be included in determining what preventive treatment to provide, stating, "The USPSTF recognizes that clinical or policy decisions involve more considerations than this body of evidence alone. Clinicians and policymakers should understand the evidence but individualize decision making to the specific patient or situation."

NBC's Snyderman: "It's important to remember that these new recommendations from this independent task force are just that -- they're recommendations." In a Nightly News report on the task force recommendations, NBC chief medical correspondent Dr. Nancy Snyderman stated, "It's important to remember that these new recommendations from this independent task force are just that -- they're recommendations. They don't mandate any changes in who should get mammograms and when." [NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams, 11/17/09]

Task force previously recommended against certain preventive cancer screenings under Bush, undermining efforts to connect guidelines to Obama

Task force previously recommended against screening for ovarian cancer. In 2004, the task force recommended against routine screening for ovarian cancer.

Task force previously recommended against screening for testicular cancer. In 2004, the task force recommended against routine screening for testicular cancer in "asymptomatic adolescent and adult males."

Task force previously recommended against screening for bladder cancer. In 2004, the task force issued recommendations against bladder cancer screening for adults.

Task force previously recommended against screening for carotid artery stenosis. In 2007, the task force recommended against screening the general adult population for asymptomatic carotid artery stenosis.

Task force previously recommended against screening for hemochromatosis. In 2006, the task force recommended against screening the asymptomatic general population for hereditary hemochromatosis.

Task force previously recommended against screening for peripheral arterial disease. In 2005, the task force recommended against routine screening of peripheral arterial disease.

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