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'Death panel' controversy remains very much alive

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Still, Senate Democrats quickly pulled the counseling provision from their version of the bill. For some voters, this may have confirmed their suspicions of the provision’s intention.

A Pew Research Center poll released Aug. 20 found that 86 percent of respondents had heard of the “death panel” controversy. Of those people, 50 percent thought the charge to be false. Thirty percent said it was true.

However, a plurality of Republican respondents, 47 percent, thought that the health legislation would indeed create “death panels.”

While Palin’s charge was over the top, it was just an extreme example of the overall rhetoric surrounding the healthcare reform effort, says Thomas Schaller, a professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“There is a lot of heavily loaded, coded language being thrown around, of which ‘death panels’ is at the top of the list,” says Mr. Schaller.

President Obama has called the allegation an “extraordinary lie.” On Friday, the liberal group Americans United for Change launched a cable TV ad calling insurance companies “the real ‘death panels’ ” for allegedly denying care in the past to patients with life-threatening conditions.

Conservatives have denounced the charge, too – the conservative magazine National Review ran an editorial calling the “death panel” discussion “hysteria.”

Some Republicans, however, quickly pivot from “death panel” discussion to the subject of “rationing.” It’s an issue on which they may feel that opponents of healthcare reform are on much firmer ground.

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