Who Used To Support ‘Death Panels?’ Conservative Darling Ben Carson, That’s Who


Over the past several years, former Johns Hopkins surgeon Ben Carson has become a darling of the right, mostly because he is what many conservatives have been looking for — a black man who hates President Obama. Carson has been a big critic of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. But, 20 years ago, Dr. Carson had his own ideas about how to reform health care in America. Some of those ideas may surprise you.

Buzzfeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski wrote a story about Carson’s 1996 proposal, and some of the “radical” elements it contains. Among them:

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  • Government run catastrophic health care.
  • A computerized national medical records database.
  • Food stamp-like “health care vouchers” for the poor.
  • National care guidelines for the terminally ill.

Republicans have been calling Obamacare a “government takeover of health care” ever since the law was being crafted in congress. Of course, the Affordable Care Act is anything but that, as it puts insurance companies firmly in the driver’s seat in terms of health care, provided they agree to follow a simple set of rules. But Carson’s proposal for a catastrophic health care fund would have given the government control over care in that area. The government’s catastrophic care program would be funded by mandatory contributions from insurance company profits. Carson writes,

Such a fund would be supported by a mandatory contribution of approximately 10 to 15 percent of profits of each health insurance company, including managed care operations.

Does that sound like “a government takeover” to anyone?

Did Carson really advocate for “death panels?”

Carson’s article represents a huge departure from his current positions on health care in several areas, but the biggest surprise is his apparent endorsement of something similar to what Republicans called “death panels” during the debate over Obamacare.

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) was created in the Affordable Care Act as a way to try and contain Medicare costs. Republicans seized on the board as evidence that “death panels” were real. But IPAB was largely a toothless monster. According to Modern Healthcare, IPAB is all but a dead issue, because Medicare spending has been well below the targets that would have called it into action. In addition, former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told congress in 2011:

…the panel [IPAB] is prohibited from making recommendations that would ration care, raise beneficiary premiums, increase cost-sharing, reduce benefits or change Medicare eligibility.

The Republican claim that Obamacare contains “death panels” was selected as Politifact’s 2009 “Lie Of the Year.

Here’s what Ben Carson wrote in 1996:

Decisions on who should be treated and who should not be treated clearly requires some national guidelines and obviously should be made based on the viability of the patient rather than the age of the patient. There are clearly many 90-year-old individuals who are healthier than some 40 or 50-year-old individuals and certainly medical treatment should not be withheld if there is a reasonable chance of recovery and resumption of a normal lifestyle. If a patient insisted on having everything done, consideration of more aggressive treatment should be given.

Does “national guidelines” for who should and should not be treated, sound like “death panels” to you?

Admittedly, Carson’s current opinions in this area are rather different than what he wrote in 1996. Still, it is somewhat unsettling that a person in his position could advocate for something like national care guidelines, especially in a medical journal. If he changed his mind once, what’s to keep him from changing it again?

Carson’s current proposal for a health care program to replace Obamacare, which is very different from his 1996 proposals, has been criticized by experts in the health care field. Ben Carson: wrong in the ’90s, still wrong in the ’10s.

H/T Buzzfeed | Image via Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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