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"The claim ... that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens ... is a lie, plain and simple."

Barack Obama on Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 in a speech to a joint session of Congress

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In his address to a joint session of Congress, President Obama brought up the most explosive charge to emerge in the health care debate: the specter of "death panels."

"Some of people's concerns (about the health care legislation) have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost," Obama told lawmakers and a national television audience on Sept. 9, 2009. "The best example is the claim, made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens. Now, such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical and irresponsible. It is a lie, plain and simple."

The president was referring to a notion most prominently raised by former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin in a note posted on her Facebook page on Aug. 7, 2009.

"And who will suffer the most when they ration care?" Palin wrote. "The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

We have read all 1,000-plus pages of the Democratic bill and examined versions in various committees. There is no panel in any version of the health care bills in Congress that judges a person's "level of productivity in society" to determine whether someone is "worthy" of health care. When we first assessed Palin's claim on Aug. 7, 2009, we gave it our lowest rating -- Pants on Fire.

Palin may have jumped to a conclusion about the Obama administration's efforts to promote comparative effectiveness research. Such research has nothing to do with evaluating patients for "worthiness." Rather, comparative effectiveness research finds out which treatments work better than others.

The health reform bill being considered in the House of Representatives says that a Comparative Effectiveness Research Center shall "conduct, support, and synthesize research" that looks at "outcomes, effectiveness, and appropriateness of health care services and procedures in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders, and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically."

The idea here, which Obama and his budget director Peter Orszag have discussed many times, is to make it easier for doctors, health care workers, insurance companies and patients to find out which treatments are the most effective, as determined by clinical studies and other research.

The House bill states in the section creating the Comparative Effectiveness Research Center and an oversight commission that "nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer." In other words, comparative effectiveness research will tell you whether treatment A is better than treatment B. But the bill as written won't mandate which treatment doctors and patients have to select.

Nothing has emerged to suggest to us that the death panels claim is any more true today than it was when Palin first floated it. We still rate it as Pants on Fire today. In our book, that counts as a "lie, plain and simple." So we find Obama's claim True.

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About this statement:

Published: Wednesday, September 9th, 2009 at 9:31 p.m.

Sources: Barack Obama, address to a joint session of Congress, Sept. 9, 2009; Sarah Palin on Facebook, Statement on the Current Health Care Debate, Aug. 7, 2009; U.S. Government Printing Office, HR 3200 (health care reform legislation), July 14, 2009

Researched by: Angie Drobnic Holan, Louis Jacobson

Edited by: Bill Adair