We had plenty to say recently about a misleading health care ad from a group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights. We criticized the ad on its merits — but another organization has taken a different tack.
Health Care for America Now released this TV spot, titled "Shady," on May 7, attacking the character of the chairman of CPR, Rick Scott. The ad says that Scott’s former company (that’s Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America) "pleaded guilty to 14 felonies" in a Medicare fraud case that involved "overbilling" and "kickbacks" and ended with the hospital chain paying $1.7 billion in penalties, the "biggest false claims settlement in history." That’s all true. Scott was forced to resign as head of the company in 1997 as the U.S. government was investigating its practices.
But the ad is an example of a common fallacy, an ad hominem argument, which attacks the person behind the claims rather than the claims themselves. "Ad hominem" means "to the person" in Latin.
The ad implores "before you listen to Rick Scott, look at his record." Some people may well be skeptical of Scott’s assertions because of his former company’s felonious past (and we’re all for skepticism, no matter the circumstance). But Columbia/HCA’s shady dealings can’t determine whether Scott’s (and CPR’s) claims about Congress and health care are true or false. Health Care for America Now stops short of claiming that CPR’s ads must be bogus because of who Scott is — but the ad leaves viewers to connect the dots.
For the record, Scott has said that he was never implicated of wrongdoing at Columbia/HCA. "We had great outcomes, we had great patient satisfaction, and nobody ever accused me of doing anything wrong," Scott said in a National Public Radio segment that aired May 12.
We’ll also note that the ad ends by speculating that Scott’s motive is to protect his wealth. It says he wants to "block health care reform because he and his insurance company friends make millions from the broken system we have now." The ad’s sponsor points to support for Scott voiced by an advocacy group that includes insurance companies and positive mentions by an insurance trade group of urgent-care clinics, like those run by Scott’s current company, Solantic. But regardless of whether insurance companies like him, Health Care for America Now can offer only speculation about Scott’s intent, not fact. (This is also a circumstantial ad hominem — a fallacy that argues a person’s claims are not to be believed because of a personal stake in the matter.)
According to Health Care for America Now — a group with more than 850 member organizations including labor unions and progressive groups — the ad is running on a $100,000 weeklong buy in Washington, D.C., and Naples, Florida, where Scott lives.