On Mammogram Guidelines, No Fact Checks for Sebelius or Durbin

November 22nd, 2009 2:14 PM

When outrage erupted this week over a government panel's recommendation that women have fewer mammograms, health and human services secretary Kathleen Sebelius was prepared with the Obama administration's favorite talking point: It's all Bush's fault.  Appearing Wednesday on CNN's The Situation Room, Sebelius told anchor Wolf Blitzer:

This panel was appointed by the prior administration, by former President George Bush, and given the charge to routinely look at a whole host of services to make sure that new preventive services which had benefit were being looked at by health care providers and that things that they felt did not have as much benefit as we move forward were also looked at by health care providers.

Senate majority whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) continued the theme on Friday as reported by Politico:

“The recommendation by this medical panel has been rejected by virtually everyone, including the current administration,” Durbin said. “They were appointed by President Bush.”

Not according to the New York Times's Gina Kolata.  Her piece, "Mammogram Debate Took Group by Surprise," includes background information on some members of the federal Preventive Services Task Force.  She writes:

They also said they never thought of themselves as being political appointees, much less being Bush appointees.

Medical experts become members of the task force by nominating themselves or, as usually happens, by being nominated by colleagues and professional organizations.

They are vetted by Health and Human Services to be sure they have no conflicts of interest, their names are published in the Federal Register, and they are appointed by the head of the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research, which is part of Health and Human Services.

“I grew up in the ’60s,” said one panel member, Dr. J. Sanford Schwartz, a professor of medicine, health care and economics at the University of Pennsylvania. “My kids grew up under a banner saying ‘Question authority.’ That’s where I am coming from.”

Dr. Russell Harris, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina, whose term on the task force recently ended, said, “I’m sure George Bush would never have appointed me to anything.”

In an article published on the Washington Post's Web site Saturday, Michael D. Shear and Dan Eggen note:

The task force is made up mostly of primary-care doctors and nurses who serve four-year terms and are appointed by the director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The current members were appointed during President George W. Bush's administration; no new members have been nominated since Obama took office.

OK, so members were appointed during George W. Bush's administration, but not by him. That was done by the director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  The organization's Web site indicates that person, since 2003, has been Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.

Judging by her political contributions listed on OpenSecrets.org, the doctor doesn't appear to be a Republican.  Contributions were made to Democrats Paul Wellstone, Bill Bradley, Paul Soglin, Miles Rapaport, and Paul Alexander.  She's also contributed to Emily's List, which states its "members are dedicated to building a progressive America by electing pro-choice Democratic women to office."

Obviously, the members of the Preventive Services Task Force were not, as Sebelius and Durbin assert, appointed by Bush.  Yet I've seen no news organization call them on their blatant falsehood.  No reporter or interviewer has challenged them on this significant point. 

The Associated Press can assign 11 people to fact check former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's book.  CNN can fact check a Saturday Night Live sketch poking fun at Obama.  
As long as the target is George W. Bush, no fact checking is necessary.