Posts misrepresent 2010 clip of Bill Gates discussing health care

CLAIM: A video shows billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates telling world leaders at the 2022 G-20 summit that “death panels” will soon be required.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The clip shows Gates in 2010 discussing health care and education systems at a forum hosted by the nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank the Aspen Institute, not at the G-20 meeting in Indonesia this week. While Gates did mention so-called “death panels” — a misleading term used by opponents of the Affordable Care Act — he was explaining why discussion about the cost of end-of-life care had become taboo. He never endorsed the idea.

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing a 12-year-old clip of Gates out of context to falsely claim that the Microsoft co-founder appeared at the annual G-20 meeting of world leaders this week to announce that so-called “death panels” would soon be required.

The term “death panels” refers to the way critics characterized a provision in former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act when it was still a proposal.

Early drafts of the bill included a provision that would allow Medicare to pay doctors for voluntary counseling sessions that addressed end-of-life issues. In 2009, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin claimed it amounted to creating “death panels” and said it would allow government officials to decide whether sick people get to live, the Associated Press has reported.

The clip circulating online this week shows Gates sitting in a chair against a red backdrop, speaking into a microphone. “Because of very, very high medical costs and a lack of willingness to say: ‘Is spending a million dollars on that last three months of life for that patient, would it be better not to lay off those 10 teachers and to make that trade-off in medical costs?’” he asks, in part, adding, “But that’s called the death panel and you’re not supposed to have that discussion.”

An Instagram post sharing the clip included a screenshot of an article with the headline: “Bill Gates Tells G20 World Leaders That ‘Death Panels’ Will Soon Be Required.”

“Unelected world health czar Bill Gates has used his appearance at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia to raise a discussion about ‘death panels’,” the article’s subheading stated. “According to Gates, death panels will be necessary in the near future in order to end the lives of sick and unwell people due to ‘very, very high medical costs.’”

However, there’s no truth to these claims. Gates did not make these comments at the G-20 summit in Bali, which was held on Thursday and Friday for leaders of the world’s top 20 economies, nor did he say that “death panels” would “soon be required.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation confirmed to The Associated Press on Friday that he did not attend the meeting, but declined to comment further. Gates appeared to be in Kenya at the time, according to a tweet he posted Wednesday.

The clip actually shows Gates at a 2010 event hosted by the Aspen Institute in Aspen, Colorado. Footage of the full discussion posted by FORA.tv on YouTube shows he was being interviewed by Walter Isaacson, then-President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, about education and health care systems. Isaacson asks Gates if he thinks the proportion of gross domestic product that goes to health care is over-allocated.

Gates explains that the U.S. was spending 17% of its GDP on healthcare, despite having “worse health care outcomes” and more inequity than other “rich countries.”

Gates continues by saying that as medical costs go up, both in state and federal Medicaid spending, it stresses other sectors. He gives the example of education, saying that high costs of end-of-life care funded by state and federal programs cut into funding other things such as teacher salaries.

He then suggests that the public discussion about end-of-life funding is deemed taboo and called a “death panel” by some, giving the response seen in the clip circulating on social media.

Nowhere in the exchange does Gates say that the so-called panels would be “necessary in the near future,” as falsely suggested.

And nothing in the Affordable Care Act proposal would have amounted to such a panel either, the AP reported in a 2009 fact-check.

The provision at the center of the debate would have authorized Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, including conversations about living wills, making a close relative or a trusted friend your health care proxy and learning about hospice as an option for the terminally ill. The proposal would have also blocked funds for counseling that presents suicide or assisted suicide as an option. The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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