Who’s Afraid of “Death Panels”?

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Having cast a mostly symbolic vote to repeal the entire health care law last week, House Republicans have moved on to the next stage of their anti-reform crusade. In my latest story, I explain how GOPers have begun introducing bills to repeal individual parts of the legislation, going after a new Medicare advisory board that they’ve accused of rationing care through a Soviet-style bureaucracy. The GOP has also begun trying to undermine reform through Congressional hearings: on Wednesday, House Republicans grilled Obama administration officials about reform, accusing the law of hampering job creation and casting doubt on the savings that Democrats say that it will achieve.

To a large extent, these moves are largely political: with Democrats still controlling the Senate and White House, it’s highly unlikely that the major parts of the bill will end up being repealed or seriously undermined. At the same time, the Republican provocations aren’t purely symbolic, as some parts of the law are genuinely vulnerable to being undone.

As I explain in my story, bipartisan opposition to the new Medicare advisory board—combined with the revived fear-mongering that it will lead to “death panels”— could lead to its demise during the current Congress. And even the Obama administration has showed itself to be vulnerable to the most pointed political attacks. After the health care bill passed, the White House quietly reinserted a controversial rule that would provide Medicare reimbursements to doctors who provided end-of-life counseling—the catalyst for the original “death panel” attacks.

After The New York Times revealed what the White House had done in December, a conservative uproar about “death panels” came roaring back. Rather than defend the policy, the Obama administration bent to political pressure and killed the rule. The flip-flop suggests that the Republicans may have more power to force the administration to undo other policies that the right has linked to its faulty “death panel” meme than some might have thought.

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