More GOP lies about healthcare reform

Republicans who know better falsely claim that the panel recommending fewer mammograms is a Dem plan for rationing


Joan Walsh
November 20, 2009 12:20PM (UTC)

The Senate will vote Saturday on whether to open debate on the healthcare reform bill, or make it easy for Republicans to filibuster. The only action is in the Democratic caucus, including the independents who caucus with them. (Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Aetna, has threatened to back a Republican filibuster; let's hope Democrats find a peaceful solution.)

And really, why would anyone block debate? There's plenty that's controversial about both the Senate and House bills -- things to dislike for both the right and the left. There could be a great historic reckoning about it all. Sadly, Republicans seem to want to ignore the real issues and make up lies about the Democratic bills. I saw that firsthand on Thursday when Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who happens to be a doctor, blatantly lied to MSNBC's Ed Schultz about the Democratic reform bill.

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Like other Republicans in the last couple of days, Barrasso tried to pretend that the recent decision by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, recommending that women start routine mammograms at 50 and not 40, was related to the Democrats' push for insurance reform. Even Sarah Palin has had to admit there are no "death panels" in the Democrats' bills; so now we have "breast panels," where Republicans claim bureaucrats will deny mammograms to women under 50 thanks to Obama's push for reform.

It's an enormous lie. Various government advisory panels have been trying to ratchet up the age for women to begin routine mammograms (from 40 to 50) going back to the Clinton administration through the George W. Bush administration and now, again, in the Obama administration. I'm not sure which side is right; I know doctors and breast cancer advocates on both sides of the issue. All I know is that the recent recommendations have nothing to do with so-called Obamacare. But I watched Barrasso, who clearly knows better, lie to Schultz about it all on Thursday. Here's what he said:

"You see what happened now with this rationing of care, with this preventive task force, they're preventing services for women, with mammograms. That's really a preview into what may happen with healthcare in America, when you get the government standing in between a patient and their doctor….Washington says it knows best, it says 'No, don't do mammograms to age 50, stop after age 75. 'You know what that's gonna do? That's gonna cost lives."

Thanks to Ed Schultz for giving me the chance to answer Barrasso, and explain how badly he distorted the facts about the panel's origins and power, and how well he represented the Republican position: say absolutely anything to stop healthcare reform. Lie, if you have to. Of course, the preventive services panel has no standing to change policy, and both Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the American Cancer Society came out against the panel's recommendations. And Barrasso knows that.

That's what I said on "The Ed Show." One post-show correction: It's not the very same panel issuing these mammogram-restricting guidelines over the years; earlier it was the National Institute of Health's Consensus Development Conference that recommended that mammograms begin at 50. The point is that various federal panels under various presidents have suggested raising the age at which women start mammography, and three presidents in both parties over the last 20 years have had to decide what to do. Clearly it's a medical debate, not a political one, and Republicans are dishonest and fear-mongering to pretend otherwise. 


Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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Breast Cancer Healthcare Reform John Barrasso



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