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    Death Panelicious

    Today on Label Monday we pay homage to the labeling champion, that superstar of underhanded rhetoric, the insurance industry. Wendell Potter, top flack for the insurance giant CIGNA, helped lead the fight against health-care reform, successfully getting the public to believe that America (which ranks below Bosnia in life expectancy) has the greatest health care in the world.

    Potter had an awakening in East Tennessee when he observed a health fair with long lines of people waiting to be treated in the fairgrounds’ horse stalls. He later saw a television interview with the district’s congressman, Zack Wamp, who claimed that the 45 million uninsured chose their lot. Wamp was using a script Potter himself had helped write.

    The reformed flack has since written a book claiming that labels like “socialism” and “death panels” arose from the well-paid efforts of PR people like him. Potter even asserts that the Tea Party movement came out of the same “playbook.”

    If a fraction of what he says is true, then Figaro tips his rhetorical hat to the insurance industry and its clever PR minions.  Well done, sirs and madams!

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    Reader Comments (15)

    I hope his reform, now that he's no longer getting paid by people not to reform, is genuine and long lasting, and that he puts some of those rhetorical talents to good use in his future endeavors.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNosybear
    Clearly he already has. The book's the bestseller.
    January 17, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Is writing a book saying that death panel's aren't real like telling the American people that you are not a crook?
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
    Good call, George. When you repeat a charge by denying it, you reinforce the charge. That's why the insurance industry is ignoring this book.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    According to the national registry maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services, as of May 15, 2009, there are 102,118 people registered to receive an organ of some kind when a donor is found: 80% of those are for kidneys; 15% for livers; and then pancreas, hearts, lungs, intestines rounding out the list of need. There are not enough parts to go around. Who decides who lives and who dies? And what do you call that group of people who make those decisions and set the criteria?

    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Humes
    Life panels?
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Fine by me. I am not a fan of the insurance industry ... but the term "death panel" has the virtue of being honest and direct. But the term no longer can be one of the candidates - it has become a tribe indicator - the way you use the term now indicates which tribe you belong to. Though as my blog post notes, at least for purposes of organ donation, the need for organs could likely be eliminated in this country if everyone became a potential donor. And then the Life Panels wouldn't have to make those decisions.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug
    ‎"Death panels" didn't refer to organ donations, though, right? They falsely pointed to end of life counseling. So I'm not sure I get "honest and direct."
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Palin first posted the term with reference to her son with Down's Syndrome, apparently after reading an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel (brother of Rahm) titled 'Principles for Allocation of Scarce Medical Interventions.' The concern was that if government controls health care, a scarce resource with not enough to go around, then government would make those allocation decisions. Obama recast the argument around end of life counseling, an argument where he has the better side. Though of course one reason to get "end of life counselling is when you are told you are not going to get that new liver that you need. The issue was then torn apart beyond recognition by two packs of wild dogs. Your son suggests that death panels are not real. I simply point out that "death panels" already exist, whether government controls the rationing of health care or the market does. They are real. We don't call them that, but until supply exceeds demand, rationing will occur, and someone will decide who gets a heart, a liver, a kidney, a bone marrow transfusion, and who doesn't. If you focus only on how Obama recast the issue, then of course, you never get to the actual issue-scarcity and allocation. It is an issue that has been misused for political purposes by both sides - a brick with the name "death panel" written on it, thrown by one side at the other, then picked up and thrown back, with no thought involved on either side. That's what passes for public discourse these days.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Humes
    Well put, Doug. It's true that people die because of the decisions people in authority make; but that's a far cry from "death panels." George was right in saying the claim was false. Death panels have never existed, at least the way Palin claimed.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    In Emergency Medicine, you're taught about the triage system. It's away for first care providers to deal with mass casualty incidents, situations where decisions must be made as there are not enough resources to go around. The system arouse out of the battlefield hospitals of World War One and the over-abundance of patients the doctors were seeing. There are three basic categories; those who are beyond help, those who need immediate help and those who can wait for help. As a consequence of the triage system, some people will not receive medical attention, but few in the medical line would call the triage system “the death system”. Medicine at times operates on necessity, and the results can seem cruel. But there is a difference between choosing who receives medical attention, and hence lives, and choosing who will die. In conflating the two and blurring the distinction, the argument goes from one about medicine, to one about fear. A panel chooses who will receive organ transplants out of medical necessity, not because of political orders. The opponents of the health care law, no matter what merits their argument may have had, in using a term that is so invocative, and so terrifying, showed a disinclination to discuss the issues at hand in reasonable and rational terms. There are problems in this country with our medical system, and they are serious. The health care plan was by no means perfect, so we need a national debate, and that cannot be done in using labels that monger fear. The sick and dying of this country deserve more from us. They deserve not only the best care we can provide, but the best care we can imagine.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
    Nice analogy, George.
    January 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Another reason why the insurance industry wants to distance itself from Wendell Potter probably has to do with the fact that, with this new health care law, they just got 35 million new paying customers--even if the federal government is helping to bankroll the bills.

    Barack Obama has proved to be an excellent Republican president.
    January 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarco
    Fig, are you okay? I expected a post on President Obama's State of the Union speech by now. Please tell me it's because you're vacationing in a rustic no-electric no-internet no-cell-phone-reception cabin somewhere in rural Oregon, and not because you're hospitalized with appendicitis....
    January 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterContent
    Sorry, Content, but my work has gotten out of hand lately. Stay tuned!
    January 29, 2011 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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