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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Health Care Battle, Infomercial-Style

The group Conservatives for Patients’ Rights has produced a 30-minute documentary-style commercial, which aired May 31 on NBC after “Meet the Press.” Hosted by former CNN anchor Gene Randall, the program, labeled “paid programming” throughout, was a very lengthy version of ads the group has run criticizing government-run health care systems in Britain and Canada.

We called one of the group’s ads “misleading,” saying that it “falsely suggests Congress wants a British-style system here in the U.S.” and that it “neglects to mention that President Obama hasn’t proposed a government-run plan and, in fact, has rejected the idea.” The video is more forthright in explaining Obama’s proposal, but says “influential lawmakers” are pushing for a single-payer system.

While standing in front of the White House, Randall tells viewers that Obama “says every American has the right to coverage that is affordable, comprehensive and portable. The president also says let’s build on the existing health insurance system.” That’s all true. He goes on to say:

Randall: But despite the president’s public denials that he wants a single-payer system, there are influential lawmakers on Capitol Hill who are pushing for just that.

What constitutes “influential” is a matter of opinion. But one of the senators leading Congress’ health care effort, Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, has made his views quite clear, saying “single-payer is not going to get even to first base in Congress.” Another, Sen. Edward Kennedy, chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, is working on legislation that, like Obama’s proposal, would include a public plan option. Kennedy wrote last week in an op-ed in the Boston Globe: “We’re also hearing that some Americans want the choice of enrolling in a health insurance program backed by the government for the public good, not private profit – so that option will be available too.”

So, which lawmakers are backing a single-payer system? Well, one is Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who proposed such a “Medicare for all” plan as a presidential candidate. Another is Rep. John Conyers, whose government-run health care bill died quietly in committee in the last Congress and hasn’t moved out of committee since it was introduced again in late January. Conservatives for Patients’ Rights pointed us to the Conyers bill the last time we wrote about the group. The Michigan Democrat also got a last-minute invitation to the White House’s health care summit, after it was criticized by single-payer advocates for shunning such viewpoints. As the Wall Street Journal wrote, Conyers and the president of Physicians for a National Health Program were two out of more than a hundred attendees.

We’ll leave it to readers to decide how “influential” Conyers is on this issue.

Randall goes on to say that because some lawmakers want a single-payer system, “free market health care advocates” are fearful that Obama’s proposal will open the door to “a government health care monopoly,” whatever the president may say.

Randall: No wonder then that free market health care advocates are alarmed by talk of a government-run plan for the uninsured, the self employed and small businesses and the proposed establishment of a national health insurance exchange which would oversee a restructuring of the private insurance market. The warning: that these could all be incremental steps toward a government health care monopoly.

“Free market health care advocates” may well have concerns. But the fact is that Obama has proposed a public plan in addition to the current private market, and he has said consistently that his plan will allow people to keep their current private plans if they wish. (Sen. Kennedy has made a similar proposal.) Thus, CPR’s half-hour program sets up a straw man argument, refuting the idea of a single-payer health care system even though that’s not the type of health care proposal put forth by the president or key members of Congress on this issue.

Immediately after the program, NBC aired an ad (of only 30 seconds) from Health Care for America Now, a coalition that includes labor unions and progressive groups. That spot criticized the chairman of CPR, Rick Scott, who figured prominently in the infomercial. The lengthy program highlighted Scott’s successes as head of the hospital chain Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America but didn’t mention what Health Care for America Now pointed out — that Scott’s former company “pleaded guilty to 14 felonies” in a Medicare fraud case that ended in the “biggest false claims settlement in history.” As we wrote before, that may all be true, but it’s a great example of yet another fallacy, an ad hominem argument, attacking the person rather than the claims he actually makes.

CPR also bought early-morning ad time for the infomerical on A&E, the History Channel and ION.