Health policy fear-mongering fraud on radio call-in show – how often does this occur on American airwaves?

In more than 7 years of blogging about health care messages affecting the public dialogue, I don’t think I’ve ever written before about radio call-in programs.  But this one hit pretty close to home.

Nothing makes me more upset than people fear-mongering and lying about health care to suit their own interests.

I don’t listen to radio call-in shows, so maybe some of you who do can tell me how prevalent this is.

My 89-year old mother wrote me last night, forwarding a well-traveled e-thread that read like this:

  • Be sure to listen to this.  Chilling and scary !
  • Behind closed doors in Washington there are some very evil forces at work the depth of which we have no idea. Please listen to this chilling report.
  • Read this report on how 70 year olds will be treated IF they have any neurosurgical medication or surgery problems.

Because I know she’s worried about my 91-year old Dad’s health and his imminent need for medical attention for some problems he’s been having, I listened to the audio clip she sent.  After all, it was the first audio clip she’s ever sent me.  I didn’t know that she knew how to send these.  But then again, she didn’t load the audio clip.  She was merely forwarding an already well-traveled senior circuit call-in show excerpt from the Mark Levin radio program.  Levin’s website labels him as:

“one of the top new authors in the conservative political arena….a frequent guest and substitute host on The Sean Hannity Show, and has also been an advisor to Limbaugh, who frequently refers to him on the air with the nickname “F. Lee Levin.” He is perhaps more well-known for his nickname, “The Great One,” coined by his friend Hannity. Mark Levin is one of America’s preeminent conservative commentators and constitutional lawyers.”

The “chilling and scary” part of the show came when a caller, “Jeff from Chicago,” said he was a brain surgeon who just returned from Washington.

“where we were reading over what the Obama health care plan would be for advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70 which we all found quite disturbing…Basically what the document stated was that if you’re over 70 and you come into an emergency room and you’re on government-supported health care, that you get comfort care.”

The host said, “Wait a minute.  What document? And what’s the source for this.”

Brain surgeon “Jeff” stammered:  “This is uh… the….uh….Obama’s new health care plan for advanced neurosurgical care.”

Host:  “And who issued this? HHS?”

Brain surgeon “Jeff”:  “Yes….and basically for patients over 70 years of age, advanced neurosurgical care was generally not indicated.”

Host:  “Is this published somewhere?”

Caller:  “Not yet.  Not yet.”

Host:  “So this was discussed just with your community, the neurosurgeons.”

Brain surgeon “Jeff”: “Exactly…the AANS and the CNS…. the American Association of Neurosurgeons and the Congress of Neurosurgeons.”

Host:  “So Sarah Palin was right, we’re going to have these death panels aren’t we?”

The audio of that portion of the program has now been posted on YouTube.

So I went to the AANS website and here’s what I found:

Washington, DC – On November 22, 2011, an individual claiming to be a “brain surgeon” made several statements referencing neurosurgical care on a Mark Levin radio show segment. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) reviewed this segment and found that it contained several factual inaccuracies which we wish to clarify. The AANS and CNS are unaware of any federal government document directing that advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70 years of age will not be indicated and only supportive care treatment will be provided. Furthermore, in conducting our own due diligence, the caller who identified himself as a brain surgeon is not actually a neurosurgeon, nor was there any session at the recent Congress of Neurological Surgeons’ scientific meeting in Washington, DC at which a purported government document calling for the rationing of neurosurgical care was discussed. …We have requested numerous times that this podcast be removed from Mark Levin’s website as it portrays inaccurate information which could potentially be harmful to the patients that we serve.

My mother is afraid and confused. She is an example of the harm described in the AANS statement.  She was probably afraid to tell my Dad what she had learned in this viral email thread with the viral audio clip resurrecting the malignant death panel myth.

Whoever “Jeff” was, I hope he and his radio host – “The Great One” – somehow someday get a glimpse of the harm their fear-mongering can cause. I’m not talking about the power trip that show biz provides from the safety of a studio taking calls on a cell phone spouting unverified information from unvetted sources.  I’m talking about the real world with real old people like my mother who believe this crap and get confused and upset and hurt in the process.

But, as with the original wildly false “death panel” claims, this story grew legs.  I found pages and pages – dozens and dozens of search results from websites that passed along this hoax.   Great for the ratings, right, “Great One”?


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Gregory D. Pawelski

January 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Thanks for this Gary! Glad my 97-year-old mom doesn’t listen to any radio in the nursing home she’s at. However, listening (while just walking done the corridor) to how many residents listen to the Fox News channel, does disturb me quite a bit. This kind of stuff comes up on the cancer boards though.

Ed Iverson

January 12, 2012 at 6:16 pm

Sadly, these people do not care how confused, upset and hurt people like your mother may become upon hearing their lies. In fact, they are counting on it. They are focused on political victory, and nothing else. In their minds, fear is good if it drives good folk like your mom to vote their way. I must say, I think the Obama administration has done a very poor job of communicating what’s in the health care reform act, what it will and will not do for people, etc., and I hope they do a better job of it as the election season moves forward, but that’s no excuse for the rabid lies coming from the Right. Sadly, the world is full of people who do not care about truth, decency, or doing the right thing, but only how what they can gain or how they can win, and the internet gives them an immensely powerful tool they can leverage toward their ends. All we can do is fight back, and hope truth finally prevails.

richard d huhn md

January 17, 2012 at 5:28 am

This is so typical of the underhanded dishonest propaganda tricks the Republicans use in their desperate efforts to undermine any movement toward a more progressive beneficent society and government.