A right-wing group called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights is airing a political attack ad against the idea of a public option for health insurance by turning upside down an analysis showing that 119 million Americans would jump from their private health insurer to a government plan if one existed.

According to that analysis, 119 million Americans – roughly two-thirds of those now on private plans – would defect to a public option if they had a choice. But the right-wing group, in airing its ad on CNN, presents that number as a case of denying those Americans the choice of staying on their private plans.

“Experts say a government plan could result in 119 million Americans coming off their existing coverage,” a woman’s voice intones over the image of a Wall Street Journal article. “They’d end up on a government-run plan.”

However, those 119 million Americas would be “coming off their existing coverage,” according to the analysis, because many would choose a public health option over their existing private plan. In other words, what the CPR group wants to do is to deny those 119 million Americans the choice that many of them want.

In opening the ad, CPR leader Rick Scott explicitly flips the issue of “choice,” maintaining that a public option “could mean taking away your choice.”

Scott is a multimillionaire who built Columbia/HCA into the largest U.S. health-care company before being removed by the board of directors in 1997 after a fraud investigation that led to a guilty plea for the company on overbilling state and federal health plans and to a record $1.7 billion in fines.

Coordinating Scott’s anti-public-option attack ads is the CRC Public Relations firm that devised the “Swift boat” attacks on Sen. John Kerry’s war record during Campaign 2004. [Washington Post, May 11, 2009]

In one of the strange twists of the current health-care debate, the industry’s defenders have repeatedly cited the potential 119 million American defectors to a public option as an argument for denying them that choice. The argument is that so many Americans would vote with their pocketbooks against the private insurers and in favor of a government-run plan that the private industry would collapse.

“As many as 119 million Americans would shift from private coverage to the government plan,” one of the industry’s chief protectors, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, wrote in a column for Politico.com, arguing that the result would be cataclysmic for the industry.

Though some analysts question the accuracy of the 119 million estimate, its use by industry defenders represents a remarkable admission of failure by private health insurers to meet the needs of their customers.

That failure was underscored again on Wednesday by the findings of a congressional investigation that two-thirds of the industry used a faulty database that overcharged patients for seeing out-of-network doctors. The use of the flawed database cost private insurance subscribers billions of dollars that they should not otherwise have paid, the report said.

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, three health-care experts explained how insurers duck payments for sick people by using incomprehensible documents and by selling “junk” policies that don’t meet the needs of their customers.

The witnesses included Wendell Potter, insurance giant Cigna’s former vice president for communications, who said insurers deliberately make the paperwork confusing to deter customers from obtaining the payments they may deserve.

Now, Potter said the industry’s goal is to "“shape reform in a way that benefits Wall Street far more than average Americans." To do so, he said, "The industry and its backers are using fear tactics, as they did in 1994, to tar a transparent and accountable -- publicly accountable -- health-care option," Potter said. [Washington Post, June 25, 2009]

Given the many complaints that Americans have expressed over the years about denials, limits and cost of health insurance, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that millions of Americans would trust a government-run insurance plan over a private one.

But the main point of U.S. public opinion has been that health care reform should offer a choice for Americans to pick one or the other.  According to a New York Times/CBS poll, 72 percent of the American people favor “offering everyone a government administered health insurance plan like Medicare that would compete with private health insurance plans.”

However, the attack ad appearing on CNN has turned the choice issue inside out, with the goal of leaving the American people with only the choice of signing up with a private insurer or going without insurance.

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.

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