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An expert panel convened by the US Food and Drug Administration unanimously agrees that Celebrex, Bextra, and Vioxx “significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular events” such as heart attacks. However the panel does not believe that the risk is so great that these drugs should be banned from the market. (Vioxx was withdrawn from the market voluntarily by its manufacturer in September (see September 30, 2004).) The sales of these drugs should be permitted to continue, but only under strict conditions, the panel says. It also recommends a prohibition on direct marketing to consumers, a patient’s guide for the drug, and a black box warning—the most severe possible—detailing the drug’s cardiovascular side effects. [CNN, 2/18/2005; Washington Times, 2/19/2005] After the vote, the New York Times reveals that 10 of the panel’s 32 members had at one time been paid-consultants to the makers of the drugs in question. In analyzing the votes, the Times discovers that neither Bextra nor Vioxx would have survived the vote if the scientists with connections to the company had not voted. For both Bextra and Vioxx, the industry-connected panelists voted 9 to 1 in favor, while the experts with no ties voted 14 to 8 and 17 to 15 to ban Bextra and Vioxx, respectively. The Times notes in its article that “these votes were deeply important” for the makers of those drugs. After the votes, the shares of Merck and Pfizer increase substantially. In e-mails to the Times, eight of the panelists, responding to questions from the newspaper, say their votes were not influenced by their ties to the companies. Two of the panelists do not respond. One of the panel members, Dr. John Farrar, who has received research support from Pfizer, says, “I think FDA would have a hard time finding people who are good at what they do who never spoke to a pharmaceutical company.” But another panel member, Dr. Curt Furberg, who has no ties, says he was “uncomfortable with the Pfizer-friendly undertone” at the meeting and he felt the industry ties might have contributed to that tone. Furberg adds that it has never been proven that Celebrex, Bextra, or Vioxx offer better pain relief than ibuprofen or more than a dozen other over-the-counter drugs. Daniel E. Troy, the FDA’s former chief counsel and a longtime advocate of drug-maker interests, plays down the importance of the ties, saying that any suggestion that experts’ votes were influenced by industry connections “buys into an overly conspiratorial view of the world.” [New York Times, 2/25/2005]
A survey of 483 physicians by GfK Market Measures finds that one-third feel drug company sales representatives are “too aggressive or pushy.” Roughly an equal percentage says that many reps are “not knowledgeable.” One general practitioner tells GfK, “It’s silly that a highly trained sales force does not know what their product is used for and they have to ask me.” According to the survey, drug companies Pfizer and Merck are considered by doctors to have the most effective marketing teams. Abbott Laboratories’ sales force is rated as the least effective. [CNN, 9/14/2005]
The New York Times publishes an article suggesting that pharmaceutical companies are using sex to sell their drugs. Physicians interviewed in the article indicate that the sexual marketing of drugs is widespread. “There’s a saying that you’ll never meet an ugly drug rep,” says Dr. Thomas Carli of the University of Michigan. T. Lynn Williamson, a cheering advisor at the University of Kentucky, tells the Times that recruiters from pharmaceutical companies routinely call him looking for prospective sales representatives. “They watch to see who’s graduating,” he explains. “They don’t ask what the major is. Exaggerated motions, exaggerated smiles, exaggerated enthusiasm—they learn those things, and they can get people to do what they want.” He says approximately two dozen cheerleaders from the university, mostly women but also some men, have gone on to work for the drug industry. The newspaper also interviews Gregory C. Webb, the owner of Spirited Sales Leaders, a company that helps former cheerleaders find work in the sales industry. “I’ve had people who are going right out, maybe they’ve been out of school for a year, and get a car and make up to $50,000, $60,000 with bonuses, if they do well,” he explains. His company’s website boasts that a “large number of former Varsity employees have secured sales positions and built successful careers in various fields, such as pharmaceutical and medical sales.” The website’s header combines a large photo of a hospital room with a photo of a cheerleader. [New York Times, 11/28/2005; Spirited Sales Leaders, 7/23/2006]
The Annals of Internal Medicine posts an “early release” version of an article reporting three cases of acute liver failure in previously healthy patients who had taken Ketek. [Los Angeles Times, 6/17/2006] The final version of the article will be published in late March. [Clay et al., 3/21/2006] The FDA, responding to the new data, insists the drug presents no more danger to the liver than other antibiotics. The agency even cites the results of Study 3013, which FDA investigators previously determined relied upon fraudulent data (see October 2001-Fall 2002 and March 25, 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 5/1/2006 ]
Dr. Maria Rosa Costanzo presents the findings of a study on the effectiveness of a $14,000 blood filtering device manufactured by Minnesota-based CHF Solutions. The study—performed by Midwest Heart Foundation, but designed with the help of CHF Solutions—concluded that the device does a better job of removing excess fluid from patients with heart failure than intravenous diuretic drugs. Costanzo does not disclose to her audience that CHF Solutions is one of Midwest Heart Foundation’s largest donors—contributing about $180,000 in 2004. She does say that she is a paid consultant of the company and a stockholder. Some doctors criticize the study, noting that subjects of the study may not have taken enough medicine to provide meaningful comparisons. [New York Times, 6/28/2006] Cardiologist Dr. JoAnn Lindenfeld, for example, tells Heartwire, “I wouldn’t view these data as persuasive enough to use it full-scale in a million patients a year with acute decompensated heart failure.” [HeartWire, 3/15/2006]
A study conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) finds that health insurance companies are becoming near-monopolies. Ninety-five percent of the 294 HMO/PPO metropolitan markets surveyed have a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) above 1,800. The HHI is used to determine whether a company’s control of the market warrants antitrust concern. A market with a rating of 1,800 is considered by the Department of Justice to be “highly concentrated.” Sixty-five percent of the companies surveyed have a rating over 3,000. The concentration is apparently the product of a period of intense consolidation within the industry. According to the AMA, there were more than 400 mergers during the preceding ten years. [American Medical Association, 2006 ; Associated Press, 4/18/2006] “Patients do not appear to be benefiting from the consolidation of health insurance markets,” says AMA board member Dr. J. James Rohack. “Health insurers are posting historically high profit margins, yet patient health insurance premiums continue to rise without an expansion of benefits.” [Consumer Affairs, 4/18/2006] The AMA has asked the Department of Justice to take up antitrust action. But the organization says that in spite of the extremely high market concentration, regulators seem uninterested. [Associated Press, 4/18/2006]
In a memo, FDA safety investigators warn that the link between Ketek and liver damage could be more serious than a recent study published in the Annal of Internal Medicine suggested (see January 2006). The memo says there have been 12 cases of liver failure among Ketek patients, including one patient who took only one dose of the medication. Four patients are known to have died, and one had to undergo a liver transplant. They suffered a “profound degree” of liver damage, the memo says. “The rapid tempo and severity of injuries… suggest an acute hypersensitivity-like process.” A review of data on three similar drugs showed far fewer incidents of liver failure, according to the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 6/17/2006]
Dr. Susan Molchan testifies before Congress. [Source: CBS News]Dr. Susan Molchan, a former clinical researcher for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), testifies before Congress that her supervisor at NIH made a secret deal with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer that involved human tissue samples supposedly collected for the public good, but were instead used for Pfizer’s own research and garnered the company millions in profit. [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Molchan testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations [The Scientist, 6/14/2006] that a collection of unused spinal fluid samples, which CBS News describes as a "a treasure trove of biological material, many painfully given up by Alzheimer’s patients" disappeared without a trace from her laboratory freezer at NIH. The samples were slated to be used for NIH studies on Alzheimer’s disease. Molchan says she was told that some of the samples were lost due to freezer malfunctions, but, "nothing solid, nothing that made sense. I never got a handle on what happened to them." [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Procuring the tissue samples alone cost the government $6.4 million, say committee staffers, who spent a year investigating the matter. "It would really be a shame if we find out that the National Institutes of Health has more control over its paper clips and trash cans than it has over its human tissue samples," says committee member Joe Barton (R-TX). [The Scientist, 6/14/2006] Molchan’s testimony, and other data gathered by Congressional investigators, prove that Molchan’s immediate supervisor, Dr. Trey Sunderland, a well-known psychiatric researcher, cut a secret deal with Pfizer at the same time Pfizer was launching and refining a new Alzheimer’s drug. "If individual scientists are making use of that tissue for their own personal gain, that’s something we need to know about it. It’s not the right thing," says House Energy subcommittee chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY). Sunderland provided Pfizer "access" to 3,200 tubes of spinal fluid, costing the NIH and, as a result, taxpayers, an estimated $6 million. In exchange, Sunderland reportedly received $285,000 in personal compensation. Pfizer’s drug Aricept is now the top-selling drug in the world for treating Alzheimer’s, generating $1.6 billion in sales in 2004. "The more tissue samples you can collect these days and extract genetic information about risk and benefit, that’s the future of drug development around the world," says Dr. Art Caplan, a bio-ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. The House committee finds that Pfizer itself broke no NIH rules or knew of any wrongdoing by Sunderland, who does not testify before Congress, instead invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. [CBS News, 6/14/2006] Sunderland himself received more than $600,000 in outside consulting and speaking fees from Pfizer from 1998 to 2004 without prior government disclosure or approval. A review by NIH’s Office of Management Assessment found that Sunderland "engaged in serious misconduct, in violation of HHS ethics rules and Federal law and regulation," the report stated. In December 2006, Sunderland will accept a plea bargain in regards to his accepting payments from Pfizer (see December 11, 2006). [The Scientist, 6/14/2006]
An article published in the journal Health Affairs reports that on average nonprofit nursing homes and hospitals provide better quality service than those operating for a profit. The authors of the report, whose conclusions are based on a review of 162 studies comparing nonprofit and for-profit health care providers, found that the evidence suggests that nonprofit hospitals have lower mortality rates. Eight of the studies surveyed by the authors concluded that nonprofits have lower death rates while only one study reported that for-profits have lower mortality rates. The article also reports that non-profit hospitals have lower expenses on average. For nursing homes, the opposite is true. The review says that evidence suggests for-profits tend to mark their prices up to improve the bottom line. There is also evidence that they receive more complaints. Sixteen percent of all hospitals are for-profit, a five percent increase since the early 1990s. [Reuters, 1/21/2006]
The Congressional Committee on Government Reform ends a 15-month investigation aimed at assessing how the FDA is fulfilling its regulatory responsibilities. The committee’s report, based on thousands of pages of internal agency enforcement records, concludes that enforcement activity has dropped dramatically under the Bush administration. According to the review, the annual number of FDA warning letters fell 54 percent between 2000 and 2005, from 1,154 to 535, a 15-year low. Additionally, the number of seizures of mislabeled, defective, and dangerous products dropped by 44 percent. According to the investigation, there were at least 138 cases where the FDA ignored recommendations from agency field inspectors to take enforcement actions. [US Congress, 6/26/2006 ; New York Times, 6/27/2006] In letters written to the committee, experts voiced concern that the FDA is becoming less vigilant in its oversight duties. Dr. Jerry Avorn of the Harvard Medical School, wrote that there is “a growing laxity in FDA’s surveillance and enforcement procedures,” a “dangerous decline in regulatory vigilance,” and an “obvious unwillingness to move forward even on claims from its own field offices.” Avorn describes the FDA as “an agency unwilling to exert its regulatory authority in defense of the public’s health.” [Avorn, 6/26/2006 ] Dr. Michael Wilkes of the University of California, Davis, School of Medicine, says the FDA has “systematically ignored District Field Officers and regularly overridden their explicit and well documented concerns about drug safety and public health.” It “seems unable and unwilling to step in to protect the American public,” he adds. [Wilkes, 6/10/2006 ] Another problem identified during the committee’s review of the documents concerns the agency’s record keeping. In response to questions from the committee, officials said the FDA lacks a centralized case tracking system and does not maintain a record of the enforcement recommendations made by its district offices. As a result, the investigation had to rely on the personal recollection of field office employees. [US Congress, 6/26/2006 ]
Tenet Healthcare Corp., the country’s second largest hospital chain, agrees to a $900 million settlement with the Justice Department over allegations that it defrauded Medicare. In 2003, the company was charged with violating the False Claims Act. The government alleged that Tenet had billed for services not rendered, inflated reimbursable costs, and paid kickbacks to doctors for referrals. The company, which admits no guilt—only that it made billing “mistakes”—will pay $725 million over a four-year period to resolve the billing dispute and will forfeit its right to collect $175 million in Medicare payments for past services. Wall Street analysts had expected the amount to be well over a billion. [Reuters, 6/29/2006; US Department of Justice, 6/29/2006; Tenet Healthcare Corp., 6/29/2006 ]
Concerned about Democratic plans (see After November 7, 2006) to push for lower drug prices and tighter regulation of the pharmaceutical industry, drug companies begin communicating with Democrats and recruiting lobbyists with Democratic connections. [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
Billy Tauzin, president of the drug lobbying organization Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA), meets with Senator Byron L. Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who has spent six years pushing for legislation that would allow drug imports from Canada. [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
Amgen, a biotechnology firm, retains George C. Crawford, a former chief of staff for Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca), as a lobbyist. [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
Merck hires Peter Rubin, a former aide to Representative Jim McDermott of Washington. [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
Cephalon contracts Kim Zimmerman, a health policy aide to Senator Ben Nelson (D-Ne). [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
The Biotechnology Industry Organization retains Paul T. Kim, a former aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Ma) and Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-Ca). [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
One unnamed medicare expert who works for House Democrats tells the New York Times in late November that he received three separate job offers in one day from the drug industry. [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
Democrats, who will have control of both houses when Congress reconvenes next year, say they intend to push for legislation that will lower drug prices and tighten regulation of the pharmaceutical industry. They want to encourage the development of more generic drugs, allow imported drugs from Canada, investigate drug pricing and advertising, repeal legislation that limits vaccine manufacturers’ liability, and give the government the authority to negotiate lower drug prices for people on Medicare. [New York Times, 11/24/2006; Associated Press, 11/24/2006] In response, the drug industry begins hiring lobbyists with Democratic connections, with the hope of preventing the passage of these initiatives (see After November 7, 2006).
At a Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PRMA) board meeting, top executives from two dozen drug companies meet to work on a strategy to prevent the incoming Democratically-controlled Congress from passing legislation that would lower drug prices and tighten regulation of the industry (see After November 7, 2006). Their top concern is a bill they expect Democrats to push that would allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices for millions of older Americans on Medicare. Lobbyists for the industry concede that it is probable that such legislation will be passed by the House. But they say they are determined to have it killed in the Senate. If their efforts fail, and the Senate does pass such a bill, the drug industry believes that President Bush would veto it and that the veto would be upheld by the remaining Republicans in the Senate. Among those attending the meeting are Kevin Sharer, chairman of Amgen; Jeffrey B. Kindler, chief executive of Pfizer; Sidney Taurel, chairman of Eli Lilly; and Richard T. Clark, chief executive of Merck. [New York Times, 11/24/2006]
As part of a library reorganization plan that was proposed in Bush’s 2007 budget request (see Early February 2006), but not approved by Congress, the EPA begins hurriedly selling library assets off for less than a penny on the dollar. Acting on orders from EPA headquarters, the agency auctions off over $40,000 worth of furniture and equipment from the recently closed Chicago regional library for a mere $350. The woman who purchases the merchandise says she expects to resell the goods for about $80,000. [GSA Auctions, 10/23/2006 ; Partee, 10/28/2006 ; Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006] Critics suggest that the motivation behind the rushed liquidation sale is to prevent a re-opening of the libraries should Congress vote down Bush’s budget cuts. Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and an outspoken critic of the EPA library closures, notes, “One big irony is that EPA claimed the reason it needed to close libraries was to save money but in the process they are spending and wasting money like drunken sailors.” [Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), 12/8/2006]
Dr. Pearson “Trey” Sunderland. [Source: CreativityFound (.org)]Dr. Pearson “Trey” Sunderland III, a National Institute of Health (NIH) senior researcher on Alzheimer’s disease, pleads guilty to a federal charge that he committed a criminal conflict of interest. The charges stem from Sunderland’s contract with the pharmaceutical firm Pfizer as a paid consultant for work that overlapped his duties as a public servant. Sunderland is the first official in 14 years to be prosecuted for conflict of interest at NIH, an agency rocked in recent years by revelations of widespread financial ties to the drug industry. According to the original court filing, in early 1998, “Sunderland initiated negotiations with Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant, to be paid as a consultant for his work on the same project” that he headed for NIH, a research project into Alzheimer’s disease. In June 2006, Sunderland was revealed to have engaged in a secret contract with Pfizer to supply thousands of samples of spinal fluid collected from Alzheimer’s patients at taxpayer expense and slated to be used in NIH research. Sunderland turned those samples over to Pfizer, which in turn used them to refine and market its drug Aricept, a leading prescription drug for treating the disease (see June 14, 2006). According to the original charging document filed with the court, in 1998 Sunderland approached Pfizer with a proposal that he be paid $25,000 a year for “consulting” with the firm, plus $2,500 every time he attended a one-day meeting with company representatives. Pfizer agreed. Later that same year, Sunderland set up another deal with Pfizer to be paid another $25,000 a year, according to prosecutors. The House Energy and Commerce Committee received little cooperation from NIH—Sunderland himself invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when called to testify before the committee in June 2006—but subpoeaned 21 drug manufacturers known to have paid NIH researchers. Sunderland’s history of payments from Pfizer, which he did not reveal to the NIH as required by law, were some of those discovered. After that information was revealed in 2004, NIH director Elias Zerhouni requested that the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services investigate the matter. Government researchers found that 44 researchers, including Sunderland, had off-the-books relationships with drug and biotech companies; many of those researchers were reprimanded and/or took early retirement. At the time of Sunderland’s contracts with Pfizer, NIH restrictions against public-private collaborations were far more lax than they are today. [Associated Press, 12/4/2006; Associated Press, 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006; Washington Post, 12/5/2006]
'Public Trust Has Been Violated' - Congressman John Dingell (D-MI) asks, “Will a criminal conviction for conflict of interest be enough to get someone fired from NIH?” Bart Stupak (D-MI) adds, “If the National Institutes of Health and Commissioned Corps fail to discipline Dr. Sunderland, even after criminal charges have been brought, we can only conclude that no one is being held accountable, the system is broken, and the public trust has been violated.” [Associated Press, 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006] Committee member Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) says: “I found this story incredibly distressing because it is so important that people have confidence in the NIH. It is a pretty big move for people to donate human tissue to further scientific discovery. People have to have confidence that that decision… is treated with the utmost respect.” [Washington Post, 12/5/2006]
Guilty Plea Avoids Jail Time - Sunderland pleads guilty to the charge under a plea agreement in which he admits to taking some $285,000 in “unauthorized” consulting fees from Pfizer as well as $15,000 in travel expense payments between 1998 and 2003. During the same period, he provided Pfizer with spinal-tap samples collected from hundreds of patients as part of a research collaboration approved by the NIH. He agrees to pay the government $300,000, perform 400 hours of community service, and serve two years’ probation. Sunderland faced up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, but avoided those penalties through his plea agreement. After the hearing, US Attorney Rod Rosenstein tells reporters that Sunderland’s actions constitute a breach of the public trust. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006; Washington Post, 12/5/2006] According to NIH spokesman Don Ralbovsky, Sunderland remains an employee, working as a “special assistant and senior adviser” in a division that gives out grants; Rabolvsky refuses to comment on whether Sunderland faces termination procedures. The branch of NIH that Sunderland once headed, the Geriatric Psychiatry Branch, no longer exists, according to Ralbovsky. [Washington Post, 12/5/2006] One media report says Sunderland is planning to retire. [Associated Press, 12/4/2006] Sunderland will later become a doctor and director of the Alzheimer Research Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. [Lundbeck Institute, 12/11/2008]
Pfizer Denies Wrongdoing - For its part, Pfizer maintains that it broke no laws and breached no ethics, saying in a statement: “We believe our actions complied with applicable laws and ethical standards. We are not aware of any allegation that we violated any law or regulation.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2006; Washington Post, 12/5/2006; Los Angeles Times, 12/11/2006]
Sharon Eubanks. [Source: Washington Post]Justice Department prosecutors appointed by the Bush administration interfered in the landmark lawsuit against tobacco companies, says the leader of the prosecution team, Sharon Eubanks. Eubanks says that Bush loyalists in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s office began micromanaging the team’s strategy in the final weeks of the 2005 trial, to the detriment of the government’s claim that the industry had conspired to lie to US smokers. Eubanks says that a supervisor demanded that she and her trial team drop recommendations that tobacco executives be removed from their corporate positions as a possible penalty. He and two others instructed her to tell key witnesses to change their testimony and ordered her to read verbatim a closing argument they had rewritten for her. “The political people were pushing the buttons and ordering us to say what we said,” Eubanks says. “And because of that, we failed to zealously represent the interests of the American public.” Eubanks, a 22-year veteran at the Justice Department, says three political appointees were responsible for the last-minute shifts in the government’s tobacco case in June 2005: then-Associate Attorney General Robert McCallum, then-Assistant Attorney General Peter Keisler, and Keisler’s deputy at the time, Dan Meron. The sudden strategy change sparked an uproar in Congress, and led to an inquiry by the Justice Department. Government witnesses said they had been asked to change testimony, and one expert withdrew from the case. Government lawyers also announced that they were rolling back a proposed penalty against the industry from $130 billion to $10 billion. Justice Department officials say that there was no political meddling in the case, an assertion supported by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Eubanks, who left the department in December 2005, has not spoken publicly about the case until now. She says she is now coming forward because she is concerned about what she calls the “overwhelming politicization” of the department demonstrated by the controversy over the firing of eight US attorneys. Lawyers from Justice’s civil rights division have made similar claims about being overruled by supervisors in the past. Eubanks says Congress should investigate the matter along with the US attorney firings. “Political interference is happening at Justice across the department,” she says. “When decisions are made now in the Bush attorney general’s office, politics is the primary consideration.… The rule of law goes out the window.” US District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled in August 2006 that tobacco companies violated civil racketeering laws by conspiring for decades to deceive the public about the dangers of their product. She ordered the companies to make major changes in the way cigarettes are marketed. But she said she could not order the monetary penalty proposed by the government. Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids was one of the witnesses whom Eubanks asked to change his testimony. Yesterday, he said he found her account to be “the only reasonable explanation” for what transpired. Eubanks says that she was particularly distressed when McCallum, Keisler, and Meron ordered her to read word for word a closing argument they had rewritten. The statement explained the validity of seeking a $10 billion penalty. “I couldn’t even look at the judge,” she says. [Washington Post, 3/22/2007]
The Commonwealth Fund, a private organization founded to improve America’s health care system, releases a study that finds the US spends more on health care than any nation on earth, yet “consistently underperforms on most dimensions of performance, relative to other countries.” The report is based on a number of surveys conducted with patients along with information from primary care physicians. “The US spends twice what the average industrialized country spends on health care but we’re clearly not getting value for the money,” says Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. Compared with Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Britain, “the US health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high-performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The US is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage, partly accounting for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes. The inclusion of physician survey data also shows the US lagging in adoption of information technology and use of nurses to improve care coordination for the chronically ill.” These findings are similar to those of studies conducted in 2004 and 2006. “The most notable way the US differs from other countries is the absence of universal health insurance coverage,” the study’s authors note. “Other nations ensure the accessibility of care through universal health insurance systems and through better ties between patients and the physician practices that serve as their long-term ‘medical home.’ It is not surprising, therefore, that the US substantially underperforms other countries on measures of access to care and equity in health care between populations with above-average and below-average incomes.” The study’s executive summary concludes: “For all countries, responses indicate room for improvement. Yet, the other five countries spend considerably less on health care per person and as a percent of gross domestic product than does the United States. These findings indicate that, from the perspectives of both physicians and patients, the US health care system could do much better in achieving better value for the nation’s substantial investment in health.” Britain receives the highest overall ranking in the study, followed by Germany, and then by New Zealand and Australia, which tie for third. Canada is placed fourth. [Commonwealth Fund, 5/15/2007; Agence France-Presse, 5/15/2007]
Wendell Potter, a senior health care executive with the insurance giant Cigna, visits a “health care exposition” in Wise, Virginia, not far from his home town. Potter is shocked at what he sees at the Wise County Fairgrounds. As he will later recall (see July 10, 2009), he assumed he would see booths set up for people to get their blood pressure checked and so forth. What he actually sees is doctors providing a range of care in livestock stalls and tents. Some patients are treated while lying on gurneys, under a rainy sky. “And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care,” he will later say. “People drove from South Carolina and Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee—all over the region, because they knew that this was being done. A lot of them heard about it from word of mouth. There could have been people and probably were people that I had grown up with. They could have been people who grew up at the house down the road, in the house down the road from me. And that made it real to me.… It was absolutely stunning. It was like being hit by lightning. It was almost—what country am I in? I just—it just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States. It was like a lightning bolt had hit me.” Potter will describe himself as “insulated” from the harsh reality of American health care before visiting the expo. “I had a great job. And I had a terrific office in a high-rise building in Philadelphia. I was insulated. I didn’t really see what was going on. I saw the data. I knew that 47 million people were uninsured, but I didn’t put faces with that number.… [W]hen you’re in the executive offices, when you’re getting prepared for a call with an analyst, in the financial medium, what you think about are the numbers. You don’t think about individual people. You think about the numbers, and whether or not you’re going to meet Wall Street’s expectations. That’s what you think about, at that level. And it helps to think that way. That’s why you—that enables you to stay there, if you don’t really think that you’re talking about and dealing with real human beings.” Potter finds it difficult to reconcile his executive lifestyle with relatives and neighbors being treated in livestock stalls. He will eventually resign his position with Cigna. [PBS, 7/10/2009]
Private contractors in Iraq. [Source: NBC]The New York Times reports that private contract employees who have worked in Iraq often return home with the same kinds of combat-related mental health problems that affect US troops and military personnel, but these private workers are largely left on their own to find care. Their disorders and traumas often go untreated. Unlike US soldiers, private employees are at the mercy of their corporate health care systems, or in some cases, are left to fend entirely for themselves. There is no widespread screening for returning contract workers, and many who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other disorders go unidentified. And many others receive poor-quality treatment because of limited civilian expertise in combat-related disorders. "I think the numbers are in the thousands, maybe tens of thousands," says psychologist Paul Brand. "Many are going undiagnosed. These guys are fighting demons, and they don’t know how to cope." The federal government, which has paid billions of dollars to corporations for services in Iraq since the war began, has so far failed to address the issue of mental health problems among private workers, according to Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials. "To my knowledge, it has not been looked at systematically," says VA official Dr. Matthew J. Friedman. [New York Times, 7/5/2007]
In an op-ed, the New York Times calls the idea that the US has “the best health care system in the world,” as recently stated by President Bush, or provides “the best medical care in the world,” as recently stated by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giulani, a “delusion.” “That may be true at many top medical centers,” the Times writes. “But the disturbing truth is that this country lags well behind other advanced nations in delivering timely and effective care.” The Times notes that in 2000, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked the health care systems of 191 nations. France and Italy were first and second; the US came in 37th. The Times notes a more recent study by “the highly regarded Commonwealth Fund,” which “has pioneered in comparing the United States with other advanced nations through surveys of patients and doctors and analysis of other data”; the latest Commonwealth Fund study put the US last among six highly developed nations (see May 15, 2007). “Other comparative studies also put the United States in a relatively bad light,” the Times notes.
Lack of Universal Coverage - Unlike every other major industrialized nation, the US does not provide universal health coverage. In the US, some 45 million people have no health insurance whatsoever, and millions more suffer with poor coverage. The Times writes, “Although the president has blithely said that these people can always get treatment in an emergency room, many studies have shown that people without insurance postpone treatment until a minor illness becomes worse, harming their own health and imposing greater costs.”
Lack of Access - While citizens of foreign nations often face longer waits before they can see specialists or undergo elective surgery than do Americans in comparable situations, “[t]he real barriers here are the costs facing low-income people without insurance or with skimpy coverage.” However, “even Americans with above-average incomes find it more difficult than their counterparts abroad to get care on nights or weekends without going to an emergency room, and many report having to wait six days or more for an appointment with their own doctors.”
Unfair Disparities - The dichotomy between the care provided to economically well-off Americans and their more economically challenged fellows is worse than in any other industrialized nation. “Americans with below-average incomes are much less likely than their counterparts in other industrialized nations to see a doctor when sick, to fill prescriptions, or to get needed tests and follow-up care.”
Unhealthy Living - The US ranks last among 23 nations in its infant mortality rate—more American children die in infancy than in 22 other countries. “But the problem is much broader,” the Times continues. “We rank near the bottom in healthy life expectancy at age 60, and 15th among 19 countries in deaths from a wide range of illnesses that would not have been fatal if treated with timely and effective care. The good news is that we have done a better job than other industrialized nations in reducing smoking. The bad news is that our obesity epidemic is the worst in the world.”
Varying Quality - The Commonwealth Fund study notes that the US ranks first in providing the correct care for a given condition, and does very well in providing preventative care to its citizens. But it does much worse in coordinating the care of chronically ill patients, in protecting the safety of patients, and in meeting the needs and preferences of patients. Overall, the quality of health care in the US is the lowest among the six nations profiled by the study.
Varying Survival Rates - US citizens live longer than their foreign counterparts with breast cancer, and second-longest with cervical cancer and childhood leukemia. But US citizens rank last or next-to-last in life expectancy for patients with kidney transplants, liver transplants, colorectal cancer, circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.
Poor Patient Satisfaction - Only 40 percent of Americans are satisfied with the nation’s health care system. Of 17 countries surveyed, the US comes in 14th. The US ranks first in negative public perceptions, with a third of Americans calling for a system-wide revamp of American health care.
Poor Use of Information Technology - American health care providers are years behind their foreign counterparts in their use of information technology, electronic medical records, electronic prescriptions, and more. “This makes it harder to coordinate care, spot errors, and adhere to standard clinical guidelines,” the Times writes.
Conclusion - “With health care emerging as a major issue in the presidential campaign and in Congress, it will be important to get beyond empty boasts that this country has ‘the best health care system in the world’ and turn instead to fixing its very real defects,” the Times concludes. “The main goal should be to reduce the huge number of uninsured, who are a major reason for our poor standing globally.… The world’s most powerful economy should be able to provide a health care system that really is the best.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
A federal judge dismisses a lawsuit seeking to halt sales of the so-called “morning-after” birth control pill, the only such drug available in the US without a prescription. In 2006, the FDA reversed its 2004 decision not to allow the drug to be sold over the counter (see May 6, 2004 and After) to anyone 18 years of age or older. The suit was brought by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and a number of anti-abortion and social conservative groups. The US District Court in the District of Columbia finds that the plaintiffs failed “to identify a single individual who has been harmed by Plan B’s OTC [over-the-counter] availability.” The ruling is widely considered to be a victory for advocates of reproductive rights. “They still don’t have any evidence in terms of why they think it is harmful,” says Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR). “This is the right decision for women.” A lawsuit filed by the CRR to force OTC sales of the drug to girls under 18 is still pending (see April 22, 2009). [Reuters, 3/4/2008]
The California Nurses Association (CNA) releases the results of a study which found “a national single-payer style health care reform system would provide a major stimulus for the US economy by creating 2.6 million new jobs, and infusing $317 billion in new business and public revenues, with another $100 billion in wages into the US economy.” The study was conducted by the Institute for Health & Socio-Economic Policy (IHSP), a “non-profit policy and research group” that is “the exclusive research arm of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee.” In addition to the growth in jobs and revenues generated by covering the 47 million Americans who were uninsured as of 2006, the study also found that universal coverage “could be achieved for $63 billion beyond the current $2.1 trillion in direct health care spending,” according to the press release for the study, which also notes that this figure is “six times less than the federal bailout for CitiGroup, and less than half the federal bailout for AIG.” [CalNurses.org, 1/14/2009]
Media critic and columnist George Neumayr writes that the Democrats’ economic stimulus plan will include enforced abortions and euthanasia for less productive citizens. Neumayr calls this claim a once “astonishingly chilly and incomprehensible stretch [that] is now blandly stated liberal policy,” basing it on the Democrats’ plan to provide money to the states for “family planning.” Neumayr equates the funding, which would go for such initiatives as teaching teenagers about the use of condoms and measures to avoid sexually transmitted diseases, to the famous Jonathan Swift essay of 1729, “A Modest Proposal,” which satirically suggested that impoverished Irish families might sell their children to rich Englishmen for food. “Change a few of the words and it could be a Democratic Party policy paper,” Neumayr writes. “Swift suggested that 18th-century Ireland stimulate its economy by turning children into food for the wealthy. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-CA] proposes stimulating the US economy by eliminating them. Other slumping countries, such as Russia and France, pay parents to have children; it looks like Obama’s America will pay parents to contracept or kill them. Perhaps the Freedom of Choice Act can also fall under the Pelosi ‘stimulus’ rationale. Why not? An America of shovels and scalpels will barrel into the future. Euthanasia is another shovel-ready job for Pelosi to assign to the states. Reducing health care costs under Obama’s plan, after all, counts as economic stimulus too. Controlling life, controlling death, controlling costs. It’s all stimulus in the Brave New World utopia to come.” Like a Washington Times editorial from months earlier (see November 23, 2008), Neumayr uses the term “final solution” for the Democrats’ economic proposal, the term for the Nazis’ World War II-era extermination of millions of Jews and other “undesirables.” He writes: “‘Unwanted’ children are immediately seen as an unspeakable burden. Pregnancy is a punishment, and fertility is little more than a disease. Pelosi’s gaffe illustrates the extent to which eugenics and economics merge in the liberal utilitarian mind.” “Malthus lives,” he says, referring to the 19th century scholar Thomas Robert Malthus, whose theories of ruthless natural selection predated Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. Neumayr goes on to accuse “Hillary Clinton’s State Department” of preparing to set up programs of “people-elimination,” predicated on what he calls “UN-style population control ideology” and “third-world abortions.” [American Spectator, 1/27/2009]
In the weeks before his murder on May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller, who provides late-term abortions as part of his medical practice, has a feeling something major is planned. Other abortion rights advocates across the country will later say they notice an uptick in incidents and threats before the shooting: more people at protests, more clinic vandalism, and more singling-out of doctors. Tiller’s colleague Susan Hill will recall: “I said, ‘George, I think there’s something coming.’ He said, ‘I do, too.’ Strange things were happening in our Mississippi clinic and in North Carolina. He admitted that for the first time, he really believed that something was going to go down.” Warren Hern, one of the handful of remaining doctors who perform late-term abortions, will say he is not receiving the protection he needs from constant harassment at his Boulder, Colorado, clinic: “I’m practicing medicine. I’m doing something legal. Why should I have to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, to keep from getting shot and to protect my patients? This is madness.” [Kansas City Star, 6/5/2009]
Betsy McCaughey (R-NY), the former lieutenant governor of New York and a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, writes that health care provisions in the Obama administration’s economic stimulus plan will affect “every individual in the United States.” McCaughey writes: “Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors. But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and ‘guide’ your doctor’s decisions.” McCaughey says the provisions are similar to suggestions in the book Critical: What We Can Do About the Health Care Crisis, by former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), until recently Obama’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services. McCaughey writes that hospitals and doctors who do not use the system will be punished, by a federal oversight board to be called the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. Perhaps most worrisome is McCaughey’s claim that elderly Americans will be given reduced health care based on their age and expected productivity. “Medicare now pays for treatments deemed safe and effective. The stimulus bill would change that and apply a cost-effectiveness standard set by the Federal Council,” she writes. “The Federal Council is modeled after a UK board discussed in Daschle’s book. This board approves or rejects treatments using a formula that divides the cost of the treatment by the number of years the patient is likely to benefit. Treatments for younger patients are more often approved than treatments for diseases that affect the elderly, such as osteoporosis. In 2006, a UK health board decreed that elderly patients with macular degeneration had to wait until they went blind in one eye before they could get a costly new drug to save the other eye. It took almost three years of public protests before the board reversed its decision.… If the Obama administration’s economic stimulus bill passes the Senate in its current form, seniors in the US will face similar rationing. Defenders of the system say that individuals benefit in younger years and sacrifice later. The stimulus bill will affect every part of health care, from medical and nursing education, to how patients are treated and how much hospitals get paid. The bill allocates more funding for this bureaucracy than for the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force combined.” [Bloomberg News, 2/9/2009] McCaughey’s claims are very similar to the ones she made against the Clinton administration’s attempt to reform health care in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). They will be proven false (see July 23, 2009).
Fox News graphic making disproven claims about Congressional health care reform proposals. [Source: Media Matters]The Wall Street Journal, Fox News anchors, conservative Web news purveyor Matt Drudge, and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh promulgate a discredited claim by health care lobbyist Betsy McCaughey that the economic recovery bill pending in Congress includes a provision that would have the government “essentially dictate treatments” for sick Americans. McCaughey wrote a commentary for Bloomberg News on February 9 that makes the claim (see February 9, 2009); Drudge and Limbaugh echo and add to the claim the same day. The next day, the Wall Street Journal’s senior economic writer, Stephen Moore, appearing on Fox News’s flagship morning news broadcast America’s Newsroom, joins news anchors Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly in promoting the same claim (see October 13, 2009), with Moore saying that the provision would “hav[e] the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore credits Limbaugh with informing him of the claim, saying: “I just learned of this myself yesterday. In fact, Rush Limbaugh made a big deal out of it on his radio show and it just—it caused all sorts of calls into congressional offices.” On February 10, Limbaugh takes credit for spreading the claim, telling listeners: “Betsy McCaughey writing at Bloomberg, I found it. I detailed it for you, and now it’s all over mainstream media. Well, it’s—it headlined Drudge for a while last night and today. Fox News is talking about it.” McCaughey is wrong in the claim: according to an analysis of the legislative language by progressive media watchdog Media Matters, “the language in the House bill that McCaughey referenced does not establish authority to ‘monitor treatments’ or restrict what ‘your doctor is doing’ with regard to patient care but, rather, addresses establishing an electronic records system such that doctors would have complete, accurate information about their patients ‘to help guide medical decisions at the time and place of care.’” Moore says: “[T]his news story really has exploded on the public scene in just the last 24 hours, Bill. We’ve been just inundated with complaints from people about the implications of having the government essentially dictate treatments.” Moore later goes on to add that the bill “especially will affect elderly people, because one of the ways, if we move more towards a nationalized health care system, as this bill would move us one step towards that, what you have to do to restrain costs—what many other countries do, like Canada and Britain, is they essentially, Bill, ration care. And they tell patients you are eligible for this kind of care, but this is too expensive. And so what this bill would essentially do is set up a kind of pricing mechanism to tell people, yes, we can afford to treat you for this, but not that.” Moore encourages viewers to “express their outrage over this” before Congress takes the issue up. Kelly adds another false claim: that the bill discourages doctors to act on their own judgment and promotes medical decisions “in the spirit of uniform health care.” Kelly notes, “That sounds dangerously like socialized medicine.” Hemmer also makes the false claim that the legislation contains “rules [that] appear to set the stage for health care rationing for seniors, new limits on medical research, and new rules guiding decisions your doctor can make about your health care.” Hemmer calls the provision a “midnight health care insertion” into the Senate spending bill. [Media Matters, 2/10/2009]
Entity Tags: Stephen Moore, Wall Street Journal, Megyn Kelly, Bill Hemmer, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Fox News, Matt Drudge, Media Matters, Rush Limbaugh
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas uses a recent editorial by health care industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see February 9, 2009) to accuse the Obama administration of planning a “euthanasia” program to exterminate hapless Americans. President Obama’s economic stimulus plan, Thomas writes, “means the government will decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t. It is survival of the fittest in practice.” Thomas then writes that the Obama administration’s support of legal abortions will inevitably lead to “euthanasia” of older and less productive citizens. He quotes a 1979 book by theologian Francis Schaeffer and future Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? as saying, “Will a society which has assumed the right to kill infants in the womb—because they are unwanted, imperfect, or merely inconvenient—have difficulty in assuming the right to kill other human beings, especially older adults who are judged unwanted, deemed imperfect physically or mentally, or considered a possible social nuisance?” Thomas then writes, “No one should be surprised at the coming embrace of euthanasia.” Schaeffer and Koop’s prediction that “the next candidates for arbitrary reclassification as nonpersons are the elderly” now “seems to be coming true,” Thomas writes. He also repeats a claim from the 92-year-old Koop that in 1988, he had suffered from an ailment that temporarily paralyzed him. Under Britain’s government-run health care, Koop claims, “I would have been nine years too old to have the surgery that saved my life and gave me another 21 years.” Soon, Thomas writes, “dying will become a patriotic duty when the patient’s balance sheet shows a deficit.” [Tribune Media Services, 2/18/2009]
The Department of Health and Human Services rescinds the controversial “conscience rule” that allows health care workers to refuse to provide abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their moral or religious beliefs. The rule was announced on December 19, 2008 as one of the Bush administration’s final policy initiatives. Seven states have already challenged the rule in court, arguing that it sacrifices the health of patients to religious beliefs of medical providers. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology has reported numerous cases regarding the rule, including a Virginia mother of two who became pregnant after being denied emergency contraception, and a rape victim whose prescription for emergency contraception was rejected by a pharmacist. Obama officials say the administration will consider drafting a new rule to clarify what health care workers can reasonably refuse for patients. The public has 30 days to respond to the move before it becomes viable. Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said in December that her organization supported the rule because in recent years “we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations.” However, opponents of the rule, including the American Medical Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Planned Parenthood, said it could have voided state laws requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives and requiring hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. It could also allow drugstore employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives. And the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already offers broad protection against discrimination based on religion, mandating that an employer must make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s practices and beliefs. Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood says, “Today’s action by the Obama administration demonstrates that this president is not going to stand by and let women’s health be placed in jeopardy.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/27/2009; New York Times, 2/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Catholic Health Association, American Medical Association, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Carol Keehan, US Department of Health and Human Services, National Association of Chain Drug Stores, Obama administration, Cecile Richards, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Bush administration (43), Planned Parenthood
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
FreedomWorks logo. [Source: FreedomWorks]The progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress profiles FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying firm that uses the practice of “astroturfing” to press its agenda home. FreedomWorks is one of the organizations behind the anti-tax “tea party” movement (see April 8, 2009). The organization denies that it is “astroturfing”—creating fake “citizens groups” that purport to be spontaneously organized grassroots organizations—and compares its work to that of liberal activism group MoveOn.org. However, Think Progress notes that MoveOn is a citizen-organized group, while FreedomWorks is headed by former Republican activists and corporate officials, and is funded by oil, energy, and tobacco companies. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and current Washington lobbyist (R-TX) leads FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
'Amateur-Looking' Astroturfing Sites - Last year, the Wall Street Journal exposed FreedomWorks’ use of “amateur-looking” Web sites for its “astroturf” groups to bolster their credibility as purported “citizen groups” pushing for corporate interests (see May 16, 2008). [Think Progress, 4/14/2009]
Represented by PR Firm with GOP Links - FreedomWorks is represented by the Washington public relations firm Shirley & Banister Public Affairs. Shirley & Banister also represents conservative organizations such as the National Rifle Association, Citizens United, news outlet Human Events, and organizer Richard Viguerie’s direct-mail firm. (It also represents the Bradley Foundation, a conservative funding organization that in 2008 gave $25,000 to both FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity [AFP], gave FreedomWorks $75,000 in 2009, and is considering a grant request from AFP.) One of Shirley & Banister’s partners is Craig Shirley, a veteran Republican PR operative who helped develop the overtly racist 1988 “Willie Horton” political ad (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her audience: “This is a perfect system for the Republican Party. It’s a constant feedback loop. The Republican Party activists stir up fear and anger on the Internet… Fearful, angry people go to town hall events and then Republican Party officials say they are just responding to that anger and they have no idea where it came from. It’s [a] perfect cycle. Rile them up with made-up stuff and then sympathize with them that are so riled.” [MSNBC, 8/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/17/2009]
Led by Millionaires - Three of FreedomWorks’ most prominent senior officials are millionaires. Armey makes over $500,000 a year working for the organization, and lives in a Texas home valued at $1.7 million. FreedomWorks president Matthew Kibbe lives on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in a home valued at $1.17 million. Board member Steve Forbes, the billionaire publisher of Forbes magazine, lives in a New Jersey home valued at $2.78 million, owns a chateau in France, and recently sold a private island in Fiji and a palace in Morocco. [Wall Street Journal, 5/16/2008]
FreedomWorks Supports Armey's Lobbying Efforts - Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, represents pharmaceutical firms such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, medical device supplier SleepMed, health care provider Metropolitan Health Networks, and another pharmaceutical firm, Medicines Company. One member of FreedomWorks’s board of directors is Richard Stephenson, the founder and chairman of Cancer Treatment Centers of America. He is also the president of International Capital and Management Company, which runs a hospital consulting company. The president of FreedomWorks is Matt Kibbe, the former senior economist for the Republican National Committee and the former chief of staff for Representative Dan Miller (R-FL). FreedomWorks is organizing protests against health care reform that would cut into pharmaceutical firms’ profits. DLA Piper represents a number of life insurance firms; FreedomWorks has organized support for the deregulation of the insurance industry. DLA Piper represents not only several American oil firms, but also Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on energy related issues such as maintaining the close ties between the US and the UAE. US oil firms are deeply involved in the UAE’s oil industry. [Center for Responsive Politics, 2009; Think Progress, 4/14/2009; MSNBC, 8/12/2009] In August 2009, after reporting on FreedomWorks, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her audience: “Washington lobbyists and health care executives and former Republican Party officials have just as much a right to shout down the policy debate about health care reform as anyone else does. These folks have just as much a right to try to derail this entire process as anyone else does. But we have a right to know who they are and who is paying them for their efforts. These guys are pros. This is an industry. This is beltway politics being organized and played out in town halls across the country.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] DLA Piper has also received $830,000 this year, so far, from the pharmaceutical firm Medicines Company; the same firm paid DLA Piper $1.5 million in 2008. [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
FreedomWorks Lobbying on Behalf of DLA Piper? - In August 2009, Maddow will ask, “[W]hy are DLA Piper’s clients relevant?” She answers herself, “There appears to be some pretty good evidence that when you pay Dick Armey’s lobbying firm, DLA Piper, you get what Dick Armey’s grassroots organization FreedomWorks does.” In the first half of 2007, the American Council of Life Insurers paid DLA Piper $100,000 to lobby on its behalf. During that time span, FreedomWorks began lobbying Congress on a “grassroots” basis to deregulate the life insurance industry. Maddow will sarcastically ask: “And, of course, perhaps it is just mere coincidence that FreedomWorks happened to have a newfound, ideological, purist grassroots commitment to life insurance deregulation at the same time the American Council of Life Insurers hired Dick Armey’s lobbying firm. It could just be a coincidence. Could be, right?” In 2006, DLA Piper began lobbying for the Senado de Republica, the Mexican Senate, for the purpose of “enhancing US-Mexico relations.” At the same time, FreedomWorks began promoting itself as “one of the few organizations willing to aggressively promote meaningful immigration reform.” In 2004, during the Bush administration’s push to privatize Social Security, a single mom from Iowa was introduced at a White House economic conference as a supporter of privatization. That mom was a FreedomWorks employee. Maddow will say: “This is how FreedomWorks does their work. They try to create the impression that their just regular grassroots Americans without any financial or political interests in the outcome of these policy fights.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009]
Entity Tags: MoveOn (.org), Steve Forbes, Think Progress (.org), Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Wall Street Journal, Matt Kibbe, Bristol-Myers Squibb, DLA Piper, Medicines Company, FreedomWorks, Dick Armey
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive think tank and lobbying organization, releases a report that says the “tea party” movement protesting the various policies of the Obama administration (see April 8, 2009) is not, as purported, entirely a grassroots movement of ordinary citizens, but an “astroturf” movement created, organized, and funded by powerful conservative and industry firms and organizations. (CAP notes that the anti-tax “tea parties,” with “tea” standing for “Taxed Enough Already,” fail to note that President Obama’s recent legislation actually has cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans.) Two of the most prominent organizations behind the “tea parties” are FreedomWorks and Americans for Progress (AFP). FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) is a corporate lobbying firm run by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX), and organized the first “tea party,” held in Tampa, Florida, on February 27. It then began planning and organizing “tea parties” on a national scale; officials coordinated logistics, called conservative activists, and provided activists with sign ideas and slogans and talking points to use during protests. AFP has coordinated with FreedomWorks. AFP is a corporate lobbying firm run by Tim Phillips, a former lobbying partner of conservative activist Ralph Reed, and funded in part by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in America (see May 29, 2009). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) is also involved, through his lobbying form American Solutions for Winning the Future, which is supported by oil companies.
Support, Promotion from Fox News - On cable news channels, Fox News and Fox Business have run promotions for the “tea parties” in conjunction with enthusiastic reports promoting the affairs (see April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, and April 6-13, 2009); in return, the organizers use the Fox broadcasts to promote the events. Fox hosts Glenn Beck, Neil Cavuto, and Sean Hannity all plan to broadcast live reports from the events. Fox also warns its viewers that the Obama administration may send “spies” to the events. (Fox justifies its depth of coverage by saying that it provided similar coverage for the 1995 Million Man March. However, Fox did not begin broadcasting until 1996—see October 7, 1996.)
Republican Support - Congressional Republicans have embraced the “tea parties” as ways to oppose the Obama administration. Many leading Republicans, such as Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and some 35 others, will speak at AFP-funded “tea parties.” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has moved the RNC to officially support the protests. And Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has introduced legislation formally honoring April 15 as “National Tea Party Day.” “It’s going to be more directed at Obama,” says reporter and commentator Ana Marie Cox. “This is very much, I think, part of the midterm strategy” to win elections in 2010.
Fringe Elements - According to CAP, many “fringe” elements of the conservative movement—including “gun rights militias, secessionists, radical anti-immigrant organizations, and neo-Nazi groups”—are involved in the “tea parties.” [Think Progress, 4/15/2009; Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Entity Tags: Ralph Reed, Republican National Committee, Paul Ryan, Tim Phillips, Obama administration, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Michael Steele, Barack Obama, Neil Cavuto, Center for American Progress, Ana Marie Cox, Americans for Progress, Fox Business Channel, Fox News, Koch Industries, David Vitter, American Solutions for Winning the Future, FreedomWorks, Glenn Beck, Dick Armey
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The Senate Finance Committee, chaired by Senator Max Baucus (D-MT), holds a series of hearings about health care reform, on April 21, May 5, and May 12. In all, 41 experts testify, but none of them advocate the so-called “single-payer” form of health care, a system which essentially has the government providing health care insurance instead of private insurers—“Medicare for all Americans,” as some characterize it. [Politico, 5/5/2009; Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009] The experts are from organizations like America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the health industry’s largest lobbying firm, and health insurers Blue Cross and Aetna. Some of the invited organizations employ former Baucus staff members. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009] Baucus says that single-payer is “off the table,” and will not be considered. [TPM Cafe, 5/5/2009]
Health Industry Heavy Donors to Baucus - The nonpartisan organization Consumer Watchdog has reported that Baucus, one of the Senate’s most important architects of Congressional health reform, has accepted more campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical corporations than any other current Democratic member of the House or Senate. During the last two election cycles, he received $183,750 from health insurance companies and $229,020 from drug companies. [Single Payer Action, 5/21/2009]
Protesters Disrupt Hearings - Protesters disrupt the hearings by standing up and shouting criticisms of the committee over its failure to bring single-payer into the discussion. Eight protesters are led out of the hearing room and later arrested. At one point, Baucus asks for more police officers to enforce security. The protests are organized by Healthcare Now, Physicians for a National Health Program, and Single Payer Action, all of whom support a single-payer, government-run health care system. One protester calls the hearings nothing more than “political theater.” For his part, Baucus assures the audience, “I want you to know I care deeply about your views.” [Politico, 5/5/2009] The eight protesters spend around seven hours in jail. One, Dr. Margaret Flowers, later recalls: “It’s funny, the policemen were all telling us their horror stories about health care. One was telling us about his mother who was 62 and lost her job and was uninsured, waiting to get Medicare when she was 65.” The protesters are sentenced to six months’ probation. Baucus later admits that not allowing single-payer advocates to participate in the hearings was a mistake; he will eventually agree to meet with a group of those advocates (see June 3, 2009).
Single-Payer Never Considered - In September, Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi will note that Baucus, like President Obama and other prominent Democrats, has supported single-payer insurance in theory, but asserts such a proposal would never get through Congress. Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who advocates for single-payer as a member of Single Payer Action, later says that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats made an agreement with health industry leaders months before considering legislation for health care reform that single-payer would not be part of their proposals. In return, Mokhiber will say, they asked the industry not to oppose their reform efforts, a request that the industry has generally not honored. [Rolling Stone, 9/3/2009]
Entity Tags: Aetna, Healthcare Now, Consumer Watchdog, Barack Obama, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Single Payer Action, Blue Cross, Russell Mokhiber, Margaret Flowers, Matt Taibbi, Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus, Obama administration, Physicians for a National Health Program
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announces that, in line with a judge’s recent ruling, it will approve the sale of the so-called “morning-after” emergency contraception pill to 17-year olds without a doctor’s prescription. A judge recently ruled in favor of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) in a lawsuit against the FDA (see January 21, 2005 and After). Under the Bush administration, the FDA ruled that the pill, called “Plan B,” could not be sold without a prescription (see May 6, 2004 and After), a decision partially reversed in 2006. Conservative groups say the decision will make it more difficult for parents to supervise their teens; women’s rights groups say the decision strengthens the rights of women. District Judge Edward Korman ruled that the FDA’s political appointees placed politics over science in its decision to restrict over-the-counter (OTC) sales of the drug; he wrote that evidence showed White House officials pressured the FDA to reject the drug’s OTC sales. His ruling orders the FDA to allow OTC sales to 17-year olds, and to evaluate whether all age restrictions should be lifted. CRR’s Nancy Northrup says, “It’s a good indication that the agency will move expeditiously to ensure its policy on Plan B is based solely on science.” Wendy Wright of the conservative action group Concerned Women for America says, “Parents should be furious at the FDA’s complete disregard of parental rights and the safety of minors.” In 2008, a judge ruled that conservative groups had failed to prove that the drug posed a risk to anyone (see March 4, 2008). Former FDA official Susan Wood, who resigned in 2005 over the issue, says the battle over Plan B came to symbolize just how politicized the agency became under President Bush. “The FDA got caught up in a saga, it got caught up in a drama,” she says. “This issue served as a clear example of the agency being taken off track, and it highlighted the problems FDA was facing in many other areas.” [Associated Press, 4/22/2009; Washington Post, 4/23/2009] “We need to have a very strong and science-based agency, and this is one of those steps that will help strengthen it,” Wood says. [USA Today, 3/23/2009]
Ted Kennedy, shortly before his death. [Source: Mother Talkers (.com)]Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who has just learned he has terminal and inoperable brain cancer, sends a letter to President Obama about his hope for health care reform. Obama will reveal some of the contents of the letter during a September address to Congress (see September 9, 2009). The letter reads in part: “I felt confident in these closing days that while I will not be there when it happens, you will be the president who at long last signs into law the health care reform that is the great unfinished business of our society. For me, this cause stretched across decades; it has been disappointed, but never finally defeated. It was the cause of my life. And in the past year, the prospect of victory sustained me—and the work of achieving it summoned my energy and determination. There will be struggles—there always have been—and they are already underway again. But as we moved forward in these months, I learned that you will not yield to calls to retreat—that you will stay with the cause until it is won. I saw your conviction that the time is now and witnessed your unwavering commitment and understanding that health care is a decisive issue for our future prosperity. But you have also reminded all of us that it concerns more than material things; that what we face is above all a moral issue; that at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country. And so because of your vision and resolve, I came to believe that soon, very soon, affordable health coverage will be available to all, in an America where the state of a family’s health will never again depend on the amount of a family’s wealth. And while I will not see the victory, I was able to look forward and know that we will—yes, we will—fulfill the promise of health care in America as a right and not a privilege.” Senator Kennedy compares Obama with his brother, former President John F. Kennedy, “who inspired a generation and the world,” and says he has “great hope[s] that as I leave, another young president inspires another generation and once more on America’s behalf inspires the entire world.” [White House, 5/12/2009; Salon, 9/9/2009]
On his radio show, conservative host Glenn Beck warns that the Democrats’ “socialistic” health care reform proposal will lead to “eugenics” as envisioned by leaders of the Nazi Third Reich. Beck tells his listeners that the reform package will not only result in senior citizens being forced to die before their time in order to save on medical costs (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, and February 18, 2009), but also says: “This is Nazi Germany stuff. This is the kind of stuff that is progressive in its nature. It is eugenics. It is survival of the fittest. It is the reason why the abortion argument makes so much difference. You can’t devalue life at either end because these people are waiting to swoop in and say it’s just not worth doing these things. Don’t waste the money on old people. They’re not going to live long anyway. Spend it on someone who meets the requirements of our cost-benefit analysis. So old people, thanks for all the contributions you made to society during your better years but now we’re sorry to say it’s time to send you to a better place, heaven.” [Glenn Beck, 5/13/2009]
Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress profiles Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative Washington lobbying organization that is planning to coordinate anti-tax “tea party” protests (see April 8, 2009 and April 15, 2009) with a summer push against the White House’s health care reform proposals. AFP is largely funded by Koch Industries, the largest private oil corporation in the US; AFP has long advocated positions favorable to the energy and health care industries. AFP also uses the technique of “astroturfing,” the creation of ostensibly citizen-driven “grassroots” advocacy groups that are actually funded and driven by corporate and lobbying interests. AFP’s most recent creation is a “front group” called “Patients United Now” (PUN), a group explicitly designed to thwart health care reform. PUN’s Web site declares, “We are people just like you,” and actively solicits participation and donations from ordinary Americans without revealing its corporate roots. AFP employs close to 70 Republican operatives and former oil industry officials.
Other 'Astroturf' Campaigns - Think Progress notes that other AFP “Astroturf” groups have organized events such as the “Hot Air Tour” attacking environmental regulation, the “Free Our Energy” movement to promote domestic oil drilling, the “Save My Ballot Tour” which sent conservative activist “Joe the Plumber” (see October 10, 2008) around the country attacking the Employee Free Choice Act, the “No Climate Tax” group aimed at defeating the Clean Energy Economy legislation, and the “No Stimulus” organization, which opposes the Obama administration’s economic policies.
Headed by Former Abramoff Colleague - AFP’s president is Tim Phillips, a veteran conservative lobbyist and “astroturfer.” In 1997, Phillips, then a Republican campaign strategist, joined Christian conservative activists in a new lobbying firm, Century Strategies. The firm promised to mount “grassroots lobbying drives” and explained its strategy as “it matters less who has the best arguments and more who gets heard—and by whom.” Century Strategies was given a boost by Texas GOP political operative Karl Rove, and began its career representing the Texas oil giant Enron. The firm was paid $380,000 to mobilize “religious leaders and pro-family groups” to push energy deregulation on the federal and state level, an effort which helped lead, says Think Progress, “to the energy crisis and economic meltdown of 2001.” As part of their efforts, Phillips and his partner, former Christian Coalition official Ralph Reed, used their congressional connections and “placed” purported “news” articles in the New York Times and other prominent newspapers. Phillips managed the firm’s direct mail subsidiary, Millennium Marketing, which was hired by then-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff to pressure members of Congress to oppose federal wage and worker safety legislation. Phillips and Reed also worked with Abramoff in the lobbyists’ efforts to fraudulently charge Native American tribes millions of dollars in lobbying fees over their efforts to build casinos on tribal lands. And they helped Abramoff launder gambling money. Phillips and Reed are responsible for the ads that helped Republicans win election victories by comparing Democratic candidates to Osama bin Laden, and helped George W. Bush (R-TX) defeat Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2000 by accusing McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child. They were unsuccessful in preventing the 2000 election of Republican Eric Cantor (R-VA) to the House by attacking his Jewish heritage. [Think Progress, 5/29/2009]
Headed by Oil Billionaire, Republican Party Funder - MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow will later note that AFP’s director is Art Pope, a multi-millionaire who has given so much money to the North Carolina Republican Party that it named its headquarters after him. The national chairman of AFP is David Koch, who with his brother runs Koch Industries, the largest privately held oil company in the US and a longtime supporter of right-wing causes. Koch is the 19th richest man in the world. [MSNBC, 8/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Tim Phillips, Think Progress (.org), Ralph Reed, Patients United Now, Millennium Marketing, Century Strategies, David Koch, Art Pope, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, Jack Abramoff
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
US President Barack Obama issues a terse condemnation of the murder of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) in a statement issued on the same day as the shooting. The president writes: “I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.” [White House Press Office, 5/31/2009]
Police arrest 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kansas, on the afternoon of May 31 in connection with the shooting of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller in his church that morning (see May 31, 2009). Roeder is arrested about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City after eyewitnesses to the murder provide police with the license number of the killer’s getaway car. [CNN News, 5/31/2009] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). Police say they found no weapon in his possession. Roeder’s uncle Clarence Roeder issues a statement this evening: “This is a tragedy for the Tiller family and we feel so badly about that, that Scott would murder the doctor in the Lutheran church. We are also Lutherans, and that adds a double touch of sadness and irony.” Family members say they haven’t seen Scott Roeder since 2000, and he was in and out of trouble in the 1990s. [KMBC.com, 5/31/2009] In video recorded by local TV station KMBC-TV, neighbors say Roeder was not a friendly person; a landlord says he was “trouble from the start,” and was “radical” and “strange.” His ex-wife Lindsay Roeder says: “He didn’t think of the consequences this would have for anybody. There were children in that church, children that will remember that for the rest of their lives.” [KMBC-TV, 5/31/2009] In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
TV station KMBC reports on the arrest of Scott Roeder in connection with the murder of late-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), and mentions an envelope found in the getaway car with the words “Op Rescue” and “Cheryl” and a phone number on it. [KMBC-TV, 6/3/2009] Kansas news blogger Justin Kendall finds out that the number is a direct line to Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy advisor with Operation Rescue, a hardline anti-abortion activism group. Sullenger served two years imprisonment after bombing an abortion clinic in 1988. She tells Kendall she hasn’t spoken to Roeder recently and says: “You know, he’s somebody who’s been around. My name is on the Internet. It’s on every press release. My phone number is on every press release it. It’s all over the Internet. I don’t know. He probably has lots of people’s phone numbers.” [The Pitch, 6/1/2009] Sullenger says she kept Roeder up to date on court hearings involving Tiller, who was acquitted of failing to properly justify late-term abortions in January 2009: “He would call and say, ‘When does court start? When’s the next hearing?’ I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?” [Kansas City Star, 6/3/2009] Kendall also reveals that in a May 2007 comment on an Operation Rescue forum, a “Scott Roeder” advocated attending Tiller’s church—the eventual scene of his murder—with “as many people as possible” to ask questions of church leaders and members and bring attention to Tiller. [Scott Roeder, 5/19/2007] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
Fellow anti-abortionists say that Scott Roeder, arrested in connection with the murder of late-term-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), has long been a hard-line opponent of abortion. Kansas anti-abortion activist Regina Dinwittie, who was ordered by a judge to cease using a bullhorn within 500 feet of an abortion clinic in 1995, says: “I know that he believed in justifiable homicide. He very strongly believed that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn.” Dinwittie recounts Roeder confronting Dr. Robert Crist, who worked at the Kansas City Planned Parenthood clinic in 1996: “He stared at him for approximately 45 seconds. Then he [Roeder] said, ‘I’ve seen you now.’ Then he turned his back and walked away, and they were scared to death.” [Kansas City Star, 5/31/2009] Dinwittie says she herself is “glad” of Tiller’s death, saying, “I wouldn’t cry for him no more than I would if somebody dropped a rat and killed it.” [Associated Press, 6/1/2009] After attending Tiller’s trial, Roeder told fellow Kansas anti-abortion activist Eugene Frye that the whole process was “a sham.” Frye says, “He felt justice had not been served.” [Kansas City Star, 6/2/2009] “In this situation, Scott viewed Tiller as the violent person,” Frye said. “Scott didn’t see himself as that. He saw this man as perpetrating murder on these innocent babies.… Scott had that conviction.” [Kansas City Star, 6/5/2009] Dave Leach, publisher of the Iowa magazine Prayer and Action News, which has said “justifiable homicide” against abortion providers can be supported, and to which Roeder subscribed, says: “Scott is not my hero in that sense; he has not inspired me to shoot an abortionist. But definitely, he will be the hero to thousands of babies who will not be slain because Scott sacrificed everything for them.” [Associated Press, 6/1/2009] In signing a petition against Tiller in September 2007, someone giving the name Scott Roeder wrote, “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.” [Scott Roeder, 9/3/2009] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996).
A 2002 photo of Dr. George Tiller. [Source: Abortion Essay (.com)]Dr. George Tiller, one of the handful of doctors in the USA willing to perform late-term abortions, is shot to death while attending services at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The 67-year-old doctor is slain in front of several witnesses by a single assailant in the foyer of his church while serving as an usher at about 10 a.m. Law enforcement officials say they believe the murder is “the act of an isolated individual,” but add that they are also looking into the suspected assailant’s “history, his family, his associates.” [CNN News, 5/31/2009; New York Times, 5/31/2009] Tiller’s murderer is eventually identified as anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder (see May 31, 2009).
Murder Caps Off Years of Violence, Harassment - Tiller’s murder comes after repeated harassment and violence against him, his clinic, and his patients. In 1986, the clinic was bombed, causing serious damage. In 1991, 2,000 protesters outside the clinic were arrested over the course of the summer. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms outside the clinic (see August 19, 1993). During a trial for performing illegal abortions, in which he was acquitted (see March 27, 2009), Tiller testified that he had spent years under the protection of federal agents after the FBI learned in 1994 that he was a top target on an anti-abortionist assassination list. [Agence France-Presse, 5/31/2009] In recent months, Tiller had been targeted by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly referred to him as “Tiller the Killer.” Tiller’s clinic was defaced with a poster titled “Auschwichita,” that claimed Tiller was like Hitler because he espoused Christianity just as Hitler did. The poster also used the term “Tiller the Killer,” and called Tiller an “equal opportunity executioner.” [Sarah Jones, 10/20/2010]
Responses from Family, President, Activists - Responding to Tiller’s murder, President Obama tells the nation, “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence” (see May 31, 2009). Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), says his organization has always sought “nonviolent” measures to challenge Tiller, including efforts in recent years to have him prosecuted for crimes or investigated by state health authorities. “Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Newman says. “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.” Newman says that Roeder may have posted on OR-hosted Web sites, but says of the suspect, “He is not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer.” The media will quickly unearth deeper ties between OR and Roeder than Newman initially acknowledges (see May 31, 2009). In a statement, the Tiller family says: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father, and grandfather, and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.” [New York Times, 5/31/2009]
Former anti-abortion activist Frank Schaeffer, author of the book Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, says publicly that the religious right anti-abortion movement shares the blame for the murder of late-term-abortion-provider George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). In a column on the “Huffington Post” website, Schaeffer writes that, in books they wrote that were bestsellers on the religious right, both he and his father, Francis Schaeffer, advocated using force to stop abortion if legal avenues failed. His father, he writes, “compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler’s Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion.” He points out that Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 for murdering abortion provider Dr. John Bayard Britton and one of his volunteer escorts in 1994, was “an avid follower of my father’s.” Schaeffer, who left the religious right in the mid 1980s, writes that he is “very sorry” for his own part. [Huffington Post, 6/1/2009] In an interview on the “Rachel Maddow Show,” Schaeffer apologizes again for the anti-abortion campaign he helped found and build, and says, “[T]his is what helps unhinge a society.” [MSNBC, 6/1/2009]
Scott Roeder [Source: Kansas City Star]After his arrest in connection with the murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas (see May 31, 2009), Scott Roeder is charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. The latter charges are for pointing a gun at two men who were eyewitnesses to the murder. Roeder requests that the court appoint counsel for him and is referred to the public defender’s office. [Wichita Eagle, 6/2/2009] District Attorney Nola Foulston explains that the state will not seek the death penalty, as Kansas law sets out seven required criteria for a capital charge, none of which fit the Tiller murder. The maximum sentence for first-degree murder in Kansas is life imprisonment. [Wichita Eagle, 6/4/2009] In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
Jeffery Pederson, office manager of the Central Family Medicine/Aid for Women Clinic in Kansas City, says that he reported to both the FBI and local police that a man whose description and license plate matched those of Scott Roeder, the man charged with murdering late-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), had glued the locks of the clinic doors. One of the reports was made the day before the killing. “I was just sick,” Pederson says. “That was the plate I gave the FBI Saturday [May 30]. I called the FBI back and said, ‘It’s the same car. It’s the same guy.’” FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton says, “When we are notified when vandalism occurs at a clinic, we look into the matter, but we’re not going to comment on anything regarding that incident.” Kansas City police spokesman Michael Golden says the police report resulting from Pederson’s complaint contained “no suspect information.” [Kansas City Star, 6/2/2009] In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Pederson says that he told the FBI the vandal’s first name, Scott, which his staff knew from anti-abortion protests at the clinic, as well as giving them his license plate number and security camera videos. He also notes that complaints to the FBI of the same man committing similar vandalism in 2000 resulted in no action other than “talking to” Roeder. [Democracy Now!, 6/4/2009] A New York Times editorial will later criticize the FBI for not being more vigilant. [New York Times, 6/7/2009]
Max Baucus (D-MT), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, meets with advocates of “single-payer,” or government-run health insurance. Baucus recently chaired hearings on health care reform which excluded single-payer advocates (see April 21-May 12, 2009). He meets with representatives of the advocacy group Physicians for a National Health Program (PHNP), two Harvard University medical professors, a medical school dean, and representatives of the California Nurses Association. One of the participants, Dr. David Himmelstein of PHNP, says: “Bowing to mounting pressure from single-payer advocates around the nation, Senator Baucus has asked to meet with some representatives of the single-payer movement.… We have no illusions that our discussions alone will persuade Senator Baucus to back a single-payer bill. But the meeting is a clear indication that demonstrations and activism can move even our money-corrupted political culture.” Some polls show that a majority of Americans back single-payer insurance, as do doctors and health economists. [Single Payer Action, 5/31/2009]
In a phone interview from jail with the Associated Press, Scott Roeder, who is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of late-term abortion provider George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), complains, “I haven’t been convicted of anything, and I am being treated as a criminal.” Roeder objects to the media attention received by his family, and says, “I appreciate your prayers.” [Life Site News, 6/5/2009] He also complains about “deplorable conditions in solitary,” saying he is worried about contracting pneumonia because his cell is cold and he needs a CPAP machine for his sleep apnea. [New York Daily News, 6/7/2009]
Phoning the Associated Press from his jail cell, Scott Roeder, the suspect in the murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), says, “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” He refuses to elaborate. A Justice Department spokesperson says the threat is being taken seriously, but Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, dismisses it, saying, “This guy is a lunatic.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2009] In response, Judge Warren Wilbert raises Roeder’s bond amount from $5 million to $20 million, citing concerns that Roeder could “perpetuate, participate or enact any more violence on his own or in concert with others.” The judge explains that his decision is influenced in part by police having discovered weapons and explosives in his possession in 1996, which he said he planned to use on an abortion clinic (see April 16, 1996). [Associated Press, 6/14/2009]
Flowers adorn the sidewalk outside George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, laid in his memory. [Source: AP: Charlie Riedel]The family of George Tiller, a doctor who provided late-term abortions as part of his practice before being murdered (see May 31, 2009), decides that his Wichita, Kansas, clinic will be closed permanently. Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart, who worked at the clinic, said he was willing to continue, but the decision is the family’s. Warren Hern, one of the few remaining doctors in the US who performs late-term abortions, says: “This is what they want, they’ve been wanting this for 35 years. The anti-abortion fanatics have to shut up and go home. They have to back off and they have to respect other people’s point of view. This is a national outrage.” Randall Terry, original founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, says, “Good riddance,” and predicts that Tiller’s clinic will be remembered similarly to Nazi death camps. In a statement, the Tiller family says, “We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women’s health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service.” [Associated Press, 6/9/2009]
The US spends more than any other nation in the world on health care, but ranks only 50th among 224 nations in life expectancy, according to the 2009 CIA World Factbook. Experts say that this fact could raise serious questions in the debate over health care reform. Americans have an average life span of 78.1 years; the populations of 49 other nations live longer, on average. Japan is first in life expectancy, at 83 years; Australia, Iceland, Italy, San Marino, Switzerland, Andorra, Canada, and France round out the top 10 countries. Other countries, such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Singapore, Greece, Spain, and Portugal also do better than the US in life expectancy. The bottom 10 nations are, in reverse order, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Chad, Uganda, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, with life spans ranging from averages of 41 to 48 years. Some experts note that the US is the only developed nation to have a virtually completely privatized health care system. “What we are able to find in the industrialized world is that life expectancy will be influenced in a beneficial manner to the extent that health care expenditure is publicly financed,” says public health professor Harvey Brenner. “The higher the government expenditure on health care, the lower will be the mortality rate.” A study from the University of Chicago shows that a single-payer system—government-run health care—may be associated with higher life expectancy. The governments of such nations as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, and Canada have government-run health care, and their citizens have some of the longest life spans in the world. The author of the study, Bianca Frogner, writes: “Inevitably the conversation about reforming our health care system focuses on the question of what are we getting for our money and how are others doing with their health care dollars. Life expectancy, along with mortality and morbidity rates, are fairly straightforward numbers to rely on.” Other comparisons show that Scandinavian and other European countries have lower birth mortality numbers than the US, though babies born with abnormally low birth weights tend to fare better in the US system than in the Scandinavian systems. [CNN, 6/11/2009]
Dan Monnat, who acted as George Tiller’s attorney until the late-term abortion provider was murdered (see May 31, 2009), discusses his relationship with Tiller, and the fears and threats leading up to the murder, in a lengthy interview with the Wichita Eagle. One observation he makes is that, since Barack Obama came into office, federal authorities have been more attentive to complaints of vandalism against abortion clinics. “I think there had been other requests during the previous administration for Dr. Tiller’s clinic to be protected under the FACE [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances] Act and nobody had done anything,” he says. However, when clinic staff reported vandalism on May 1 that showed “a little more cloak and dagger planning and sophistication” than most acts of vandalism, according to Monnat, the FBI opened an investigation (see June 2, 2009). Federal authorities say they will investigate a possible conspiracy in the Tiller murder. [Wichita Eagle, 6/13/2009]
After announcing plans to commemorate the death and clinic closing of murdered late-term-abortion-providing OB/GYN George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) by laying flowers at the clinic building, hardline anti-abortion group Operation Rescue changes the location of the event to its Wichita headquarters due to an announced counter-protest by abortion rights supporters. However, about ten abortion opponents return to the clinic in the evening to lay hundreds of flowers, after the abortion rights supporters have left. [Operation Rescue, 6/20/2009] Marla Patrick, state co-ordinator for the National Organization for Women, which organized the counter-protest, says: “Our original intent was to prevent them from doing their proverbial dance on a murdered man’s grave. The fact they changed plans tells me we were successful.” [Associated Press, 6/20/2009] Suspicions persist of murder suspect Scott Roeder’s connection with Operation Rescue (see May 31, 2009).
Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY) holds a “town hall” meeting in Setauket, New York, to attempt to discuss the White House’s health care reform package. However, the town hall is disrupted by a large number of angrily shouting conservatives, there to protest the reform proposals. The protesters hound Bishop throughout the meeting, shouting him down when he attempts to speak, and accusing him of “selling out” the country through his positions on the White House’s energy, economic, and health care policies. The mob becomes so threatening that five police officers are forced to escort Bishop to his car for his own safety. In part because of the incident, Bishop will suspend further town hall meetings until August 2009. Bishop has held over 100 such meetings since his election to Congress in 2002. [Politico, 7/31/2009; MSNBC, 8/4/2009]
Capital Research Center senior editor Matthew Vadum writes an op-ed for the conservative American Spectator magazine claiming that President Obama is sending a message to America’s elderly in his health care reform proposals: “Screw you.” Referring to a statement made by Obama at a “town hall” forum on health care reform, where the president noted that money could be saved by trimming unwanted and unneeded “extraordinary measures” carried out on terminally ill patients (see June 24, 2009), Vadum writes: “So, old people: screw you. In the future Uncle Sam will put you on an ice floe and let you float away to your heavenly reward. It gives new meaning to the Latin phrase ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ (In English, How sweet and glorious it is to die for one’s country.) Medical decisions should be made by patients, their families, and their doctors, not by government bureaucrats, but that’s ObamaCare for you.” [American Spectator, 6/25/2009]
Fake ‘ObamaCare’ card distributed by FreedomWorks. [Source: FreedomWorks]The corporate lobbying firm FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009) sends out a detailed memo, written in part by founder Dick Armey (R-TX), laying out strategies for protesting the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. The memo claims that the White House intends to supplant the current privately owned and operated health care system with a “government-run” system “that would cost taxpayers trillions of dollars in new taxes” and feature “government bureaucrats,” not doctors and patients, deciding who received what health care. “This takeover of the health care system would be costly in terms of our money, our freedom, and even our lives,” the memo states. Members and sympathizers should descend on the “town hall” meetings and other venues hosted by their Congressional representatives and demand that they oppose the proposals. The memo states that its “action kit” should be used at the “tea parties” being sponsored by FreedomWorks and other right-wing organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009). The memo contains talking points, slogans, sample questions, a “sample” letter to the editor that members can copy and sign, a petition, and a satirical “Obamacare Card” issued to “Nancy P. Pelosi,” the Democratic Speaker of the House, saying that the bearer is entitled to “rationed health care, long waits, less choice and control, poorer care, fewer doctors and drugs, massive government, higher taxes, growing debt, zero innovation, rising costs, waste, fraud, and abuse, [and] anxiety, pain, [and] fear of death.” [Dick Armey, 6/26/2009 ]
Moderate Republican House member Mike Castle (R-DE) faces a raucous band of angry conservative protesters at one of his “health care listening tour” meetings. Castle, who is one of eight Republicans to join the Democratic majority in voting for the American Clean Energy and Security Act, is challenged by a full range of accusations and conspiracy theories, some ranging far afield from health care reform and energy policy.
'Socialized Medicine' Worse than 9/11 - Some audience members accuse Castle of supporting “socialized medicine.” One member shouts, “I don’t have the answers for how to fix the broken pieces of our health care system, but I know darn well if we let the government bring in socialized medicine, it will destroy this thing faster than the twin towers came down.”
'Cap and Trade' Tax Will Destroy Economy - One audience member shouts that the proposed “cap and trade” tax on pollutants will destroy the US economy. “Do you have any idea what that cap and trade tax thing, bill that you passed is going to do to the Suffolk County poultry industry?” the member says. “That’s how chicken houses are heated, with propane. It outputs CO2. I mean, I’m outputting CO2 right now as I speak. Trees need CO2 to make oxygen! You can’t tax that!”
Global Warming a 'Hoax' - Many audience members respond with cheers and chants to expressions that global warming is a hoax. “I’m actually hopeful that this vote that you made was a vote to put you out of office,” one says to a barrage of applause and cheers. “You know, on this energy thing, I showed you, I had in my email to you numerous times there are petitions signed by 31,000 scientists that that know and have facts that CO2 emissions have nothing to do and the greenhouse effect has nothing to do with global warming. It’s all a hoax! [Applause.] First of all, I cannot for the life of me understand how you could have been one of the eight Republican traitors!” Another audience member says that global warming is “still a theory, so is Darwin’s theory of evolution! And yet we have the audacity to say global warming is accurate, it’s more than a theory? How about how cold it’s been this spring. Personal data, data shows that since 1998 average temperatures have been cooling!”
'Dead Baby Juice' Used to Create AIDS, Swine Flu - Some audience members believe that AIDS and the H1N1 “swine flu” epidemic are part of a conspiracy to kill Americans, using “dead baby juice.” “The virus was built and created in Fort Dix, a small bioweapons plant outside of Fort Dix,” one audience member asserts. “This was engineered. This thing didn’t just crop up in a cave or a swine farm. This thing was engineered, the virus. Pasteur International, one of the big vaccine companies in Chicago, has been caught sending AIDS-infected vaccines to Africa. Do you think I trust—I don’t trust you with anything. You think I’m going to trust you to put a needle full of dead baby juice and monkey kidneys? Cause that’s what this stuff is grown on, dead babies!”
Obama a Kenyan - One audience members wins a round of applause by asserting that President Obama is not an American citizen. “Congressman Castle, I want to know,” she shouts. “I have a birth certificate here from the United States of America saying I’m an American citizen, with a seal on it. Signed by a doctor, with a hospital administrator’s name, my parents, the date of birth, the time, the date. I want to go back to January 20th and I want to know why are you people ignoring his birth certificate? He is not an American citizen! He is a citizen of Kenya!”
Protests Organized by Conservative Lobbying Organizations - According to liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress, Castle and other moderate Republicans are facing orchestrated attacks on their energy and health care policies by conservative lobbying firms and right-wing talk show hosts. Lobbying organizations such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009) have tarred Castle and other moderate Republicans as “cap and traitors,” joined by members of Fox News host Glenn Beck’s “9-12” organization (see March 13, 2009 and After) and exhorted by pronouncements from Beck, fellow talk show host Rush Limbaugh, the Web site Prison Planet, and others. [Think Progress, 7/21/2009]
Entity Tags: 9/12 Project, American Clean Energy and Security Act, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh, Mike Castle, Pasteur International, Prison Planet (.com), Americans for Prosperity
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
A Syracuse “town hall” meeting hosted by Democratic House member Dan Maffei (D-NY) turns ugly after police are forced to intervene to restore order. During the meeting, held at Lincoln Middle School and focusing on health care reform, conservative anti-reform protesters cause disruption with shouts, curses, and screams that repeatedly drown out both Maffei’s remarks and the questions and comments from the audience, which numbers around 400. Many of the protesters are members of one or another “tea party” groups (see April 8, 2009), which have long opposed the policies of the Obama administration. The worst of the attempts to shout down discussion comes when Maffei or audience members bring up the idea of the “public option,” the idea of a government-run alternative health care plan similar to Medicare or Medicaid. Some pro-reform audience members bicker with the anti-reformists, adding to the cacophany. Maffei will later say he believes many of the loudest and most discourteous anti-reform protesters were not from the district, but had been brought in by special interest groups (see July 23, 2009 and August 4, 2009). “Many of them are not even from the Congressional district,” Maffei says. “But we’re not going to check driver’s licenses and ask people if they live in the district. It’s very, very unfortunate.” After the meeting, Maffei says he is considering other formats for such meetings; he says any such format should allow everyone to speak and discuss ideas in a respectful fashion. “This has been a problem going on a little bit with our public meetings,” he says. “It just makes me think we can do a better job with the format.” [Syracuse Post-Standard, 7/12/2009; TPMDC, 8/3/2009]
Wendell Potter (r) being interviewed by Bill Moyers (l). [Source: PR Watch (.org)]Former health care executive Wendell Potter, who left the insurance giant Cigna after fifteen years, appears on “Bill Moyers’ Journal.” He was formerly the head of corporate communications before he resigned his position, a post he calls “the ultimate PR job.” He says he was not forced to leave the company, and was extremely well compensated for his duties. He left after realizing that the health care industry is using underhanded and hurtful tactics to undermine the drive towards health care reform. He never went to his bosses with his observations because, he says, “for most of the time I was there, I felt that what we were doing was the right thing. And that I was playing on a team that was honorable. I just didn’t really get it all that much until toward the end of my tenure at Cigna.”
Health Care Expo Changed His Perceptions - In June 2007, Potter recalls, his perceptions were drastically changed by his visit to a health care exposition in Wise, Virginia (see June 2007).
Changing Plans - The industry shifted from selling primarily managed care plans, he says, to what they call “consumer-driven plans.” Despite the name, they are health care plans with high deductibles and limited coverage.
'Highlight Horror Stories' - Moyers shows Potter a copy of an “action plan” devised by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the industry’s trade association. In large gold letters, the plan tells lobbyists and industry representatives to “Highlight horror stories of government-run systems.” Potter says that AHIP and other industry representatives try to paint government-run health care as socialism, and as inevitable failures. “The industry has always tried to make Americans think that government-run systems are the worst thing that could possibly happen to them,” he says, “that if you even consider that, you’re heading down on the slippery slope towards socialism. So they have used scare tactics for years and years and years, to keep that from happening. If there were a broader program like our Medicare program, it could potentially reduce the profits of these big companies. So that is their biggest concern.” Moyers also notes that the AHIP plan targets the film Sicko, a 2007 documentary by leftist filmmaker Michael Moore that portrayed America’s health care industry in a dismal light. AHIP’s action plan is to “Position Sicko as a threat to Democrats’ larger agenda.” Potter says that was an effort to discredit the film by using lobbyists and AHIP staffers “to go onto Capitol Hill and say, ‘Look, you don’t want to believe this movie. You don’t want to talk about it. You don’t want to endorse it. And if you do, we can make things tough for you.’” If they did, AHIP would retaliate by running negative ads against the lawmakers in their home districts or other electoral punishments. AHIP focused strongly on the conservative Democratic Leadership Council. Another tactic, as delineated in the memo: “Message to Democratic insiders. Embracing Moore is one-way ticket back to minority party status.” Moyers says that AHIP attempted to “radicalize” Moore and portray him as an extremist who could not be believed. Many politicians used AHIP talking points in discussing Moore and his film. “So your plan worked,” Moyers observes. Potter agrees: “It worked beautifully.” The lesson that was lost from Moore’s film, Potter says, was that Americans “shouldn’t fear government involvement in our health care system. That there is an appropriate role for government, and it’s been proven in the countries that were in that movie.”
Conservative Counter-Strategy - Moyers then displays a memo from Republican strategist Frank Luntz, who in the spring of 2009 wrote a strategy memo for health care reform opponents. The memo reads in part: “First, you have to pretend to support it. Then use phrases like, ‘government takeover,’ ‘delayed care is denied care,’ ‘consequences of rationing,’ ‘bureaucrats, not doctors prescribing medicine.’” He then shows film clips of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and others using Luntz’s talking points in discussions on the floors of Congress. Potter says that many conservatives—Democrats as well as Republicans—“are ideologically aligned with the industry. They want to believe that the free market system can and should work in this country, like it does in other industries. So they don’t understand from an insider’s perspective like I have, what that actually means, and the consequences of that to Americans. They parrot those comments, without really realizing what the real situation is.” He notes that Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), who grew up very near Potter’s childhood home in Chattanooga, told reporters that half of America’s uninsured don’t want health care, they would rather “go naked and just take the chance of getting sick. They end up in the emergency room costing you and me a whole lot more money.” Potter notes that the word “naked” is an industry term for people who choose not to buy health insurance. He calls Wamp’s comment “ridiculous” and “an example of a member of Congress buying what the insurance industry is peddling.” Moyers cites conservative Democrat Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, as another politician central to the health care reform process who is heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists—two of whom used to work on his own Senate staff. Potter says: “[I]t does offend me, that the vested special interests, who are so profitable and so powerful, are able to influence public policy in the way that they have, and the way that they’ve done over the years. And the insurance industry has been one of the most successful, in beating back any kinds of legislation that would hinder or affect the profitability of the companies.”
Fierce Opposition to Public Option - The “public option,” the idea that the government would extend a non-profit, government-run health care alternative for citizens, is fiercely opposed by the health care industry. Potter says the reason why is “[t]he industry doesn’t want to have any competitor. In fact, over the course of the last few years, has been shrinking the number of competitors through a lot of acquisitions and mergers. So first of all, they don’t want any more competition period. They certainly don’t want it from a government plan that might be operating more efficiently than they are, that they operate.” Government programs such as Medicare and the Veterans Administration’s medical providers are far more efficient than private, for-profit health care providers, and the industry fears that having to compete with such a program will slash their profits. Medical companies will do whatever it takes to keep their profit margins—and shareholder returns—above a certain threshold. They will deny more claims, kick more people off their rolls, purge employer accounts, whatever it takes. Potter, evidently bemused, says, “You know, I’ve been around a long time. And I have to say, I just don’t get this. I just don’t understand how the corporations can oppose a plan that gives the unhealthy people a chance to be covered. And they don’t want to do it themselves.… I’m a capitalist as well. I think it’s a wonderful thing that companies can make a profit. But when you do it in such a way that you are creating a situation in which these companies are adding to the number of people who are uninsured and creating a problem of the underinsured then that’s when we have a problem with it, or at least I do.” A public option would help “keep [health care corporations] honest,” he says, and they would inevitably lose profits.
Predictions - Right now the industry is primarily involved in what Potter calls a “charm offensive,” where it is attempting to give the perception that it, too, is for health care reform. But once Congress begins putting out specific legislative language, the industry and its flacks will begin attacking specific provisions. Moyers says the upshot is for the industry to either “kill reform” or prevent lawmakers from agreeing on a bill, just like what happened in 1993-94 under the Clinton administration. No matter what they say—favoring the elimination of pre-existing condition restrictions, for example—the industry will adamantly oppose reform of any kind. “They don’t want a public plan,” Potter says. “They want all the uninsured to have to be enrolled in a private insurance plan. They want—they see those 50 million people as potentially 50 million new customers. So they’re in favor of that. They see this as a way to essentially lock them into the system, and ensure their profitability in the future. The strategy is as it was in 1993 and ‘94, to conduct this charm offensive on the surface. But behind the scenes, to use front groups and third-party advocates and ideological allies. And those on Capitol Hill who are aligned with them, philosophically, to do the dirty work. To demean and scare people about a government-run plan, try to make people not even remember that Medicare, their Medicare program, is a government-run plan that has operated a lot more efficiently.… [T]hey want to scare you into thinking that through the anecdotes they tell you, that any government-run system, particularly those in Canada, and UK, and France that the people are very unhappy. And that these people will have to wait in long lines to get care, or wait a long time to get care. I’d like to take them down to Wise County. I’d like the president to come down to Wise County, and see some real lines of Americans, standing in line to get their care. [PBS, 7/10/2009]
Entity Tags: John Boehner, Frank Luntz, Cigna, Bill Moyers, America’s Health Insurance Plans, Zach Wamp, Wendell Potter, US Veterans Administration, Senate Finance Committee, Michael Moore, Medicare, Max Baucus, Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, Clinton administration
Timeline Tags: US Health Care
House Representative Paul Broun (R-GA—see November 11, 2008) says that the Obama health care reform proposals will kill Americans. On the floor of the House, Broun attacks the idea of a “public option,” described by Congressional Democrats as a government-funded alternative to private health care. Broun says, “[T]his program of ‘government option’ is being touted as being the panacea, the savior of allowing people to have quality health care at an affordable price is gonna kill people.” Broun says that Canada and the United Kingdom, both countries that rely on public health care, “don’t have the appreciation of life as we do in our society.” Progressive news and advocacy site Think Progress notes that both Canada and the UK have both a lower infant mortality rate and longer life expectancy than the US. [Think Progress, 7/10/2009] Liberal media watchdog site Media Matters notes that neither the Canadian nor British health care systems serve as models for President Obama’s health care reform proposals. [Media Matters, 7/10/2009] Broun’s claims are based in part on health insurance advocate Betsy McCaughey’s warnings that the health care reform proposal will encourage senior citizens to die sooner (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009), warnings that are debunked by the St. Petersburg Times (see July 23, 2009).
Betsy McCaughey, the chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a former Republican lieutenant governor of New York, and a conservative opponent of health care reform, says that under the Obama administration’s reform proposal, elderly Americans would be encouraged to die earlier to save money (see February 9, 2009 and July 23-24, 2009). On conservative radio host Fred Thompson’s show, she says, “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” These sessions will help elderly patients learn how to “decline nutrition, how to decline being hydrated, how to go in to hospice care… all to do what’s in society’s best interest or in your family’s best interest and cut your life short.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009] “These are such sacred issues of life and death. Government should have nothing to do with it.” Thompson calls McCaughey’s claim the “dirty little secret” of the health care reform proposal. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009] In August, progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will tell her listeners: “That is not true at all, not a word of it. Not mandatory, not require, not every five years, not counseling, not tell them, not how to, not end their life. None of the words in that claim are true except maybe the two ‘that’s’ and the word ‘in.’ It’s not true, but it is convenient, and so it survives. And it is in fact being promoted more than ever. It’s convenient for the interests [that oppose] health care reform to scare old people about reform.” [MSNBC, 8/12/2009] The next day, McCaughey publishes an op-ed in the New York Post advancing the same arguments. “One troubling provision” of the bill, she writes, “compels seniors to submit to a counseling session every five years… about alternatives for end-of-life care.… [The] mandate invites abuse, and seniors could easily be pushed to refuse care.” [New York Post, 7/17/2009]
Availability of Discussions Mandated Since 1990 - The provision in question states that as part of an advanced care consultation, an individual and practitioner will have a consultation that includes “an explanation by the practitioner of the continuum of end-of-life services and supports available, including palliative care and hospice, and benefits for such services and supports that are available under this title.” Such explanations and consultations have been part of government-provided senior care since 1990; in 2003, the Bush administration issued guidelines for physicians’ discussion of end-of-life care with seniors.
Claims Contradicted - John Rother of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) counters with a statement: “This measure would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves but also better ensure that their wishes are followed. To suggest otherwise is a gross, and even cruel, distortion—especially for any family that has been forced to make the difficult decisions on care for loved ones approaching the end of their lives.” Jon Keyserling of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization adds: “I was surprised that any responsible legislative analyst would indicate this is a mandatory provision. That is just a misreading of the language and, certainly, of the intent.” McCaughey later responds to those statements by repeating her assertions, saying that doctors would “pressure” seniors to accept less costly services that would lead to quicker deaths. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009]
Debunked - McCaughey’s claims will soon be disproven (see July 23, 2009).
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, Fred Thompson, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, American Association of Retired Persons, John Rother, Medicare, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, New York Post, Obama administration, Rachel Maddow, Jon Keyserling
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), speaking on the Washington Times’s America’s Morning News television broadcast, says the Democrats’ proposed government-run health care system—the so-called “public option”—will “absolutely” kill more people than it will save. Will “government-run health care… end up killing more people than it saves?” the interviewer asks Coburn. He responds, “Absolutely.” Coburn’s comments are echoed on the floor of the House by two Republicans. Steve King (R-IA) tells members that the government is “going to save money by rationing care, getting you in a long line. Places like Canada, United Kingdom, and Europe. People die when they’re in line.” And Louis Gohmert (R-TX) states: “One in five people have to die because they went to socialized medicine!… I would hate to think that among five women, one of ‘em is gonna die because we go to socialized care.” [Real Clear Politics, 7/16/2009; Think Progress, 7/16/2009]
Laura Ingraham. [Source: Pat Dollard]Fox News and radio talk show host Sean Hannity tells his radio audience of the op-ed published in the morning’s New York Post by health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey, claiming that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal would result in senior citizens being advised to end their lives prematurely (see July 16, 2009). Hannity says: “[I]t sounds to me like they’re actually encouraging seniors in the end, ‘Well, you may just want to consider packing it all in here, this is—’ what other way is there to describe this?… So that they don’t become a financial burden on the Obamacare system? I mean that’s how they intend to cut cost, by cutting down on the health care we can give and get at the end of our lives and dramatically cutting it down for senior citizens? You know, welcome to the brave new world of Obamacare. We’re going to encourage, you know, inconvenient people to consider ‘alternatives to living.’” The same day, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells her listeners: “Can you imagine—if I were doing Saturday Night Live, like, if I were producing it this weekend, and I was going to be fair about political humor, I would have a hospice chute—like a door, a trap door that goes into a chute where the elderly would just walk up—‘Oh, my hip hurts.’ And all of a sudden you see this leg kicking granny down the chute, and that’s Obamacare.” She continues by making a veiled reference to Nazi concentration camps: “[S]ome will call them death camps, but this is the way Obamacare is gonna go for America.” And on the same day, conservative radio hosts Jim Quinn and Rose Tennent echo Hannity and Ingraham’s claims. Quinn says, “[T]here’s a drop dead date, you should pardon the expression but a lot of us are going to—” Tennent interjects, “Are going to drop dead, yeah.” Quinn then adds, “For heaven’s sakes, this is the death-to-old-people plan.” [Media Matters, 7/17/2009]
Republicans intend to use the fight over health care reform to “break” President Obama, says at least one Republican senator. Jim DeMint (R-SC) joins other Republican lawmakers in a conference call with so-called “tea party” organizers (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) to plan how to use town hall confrontations with Democratic lawmakers to help stall any health care reform bill from being voted on in Congress until at least after the August recess. The call was organized by the lobbying organization Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR). “I can almost guarantee you this thing won’t pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month’s break in August,” members of Congress will hear from “outraged” constituents, DeMint says. “Senators and Congressmen will come back in September afraid to vote against the American people.… [T]his health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America. If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” One of the talking points from CPR is to characterize the reform package as a “government takeover” of health care. [Politico, 7/17/2009] When Obama says on PBS that “[w]hat they [DeMint and other Republicans] don’t recognize is, this isn’t about me; it’s about the American people… [a]nd things have gotten worse since 1993,” DeMint takes to Fox News to say the argument is about “socialism versus freedom,” and challenge Obama to a debate. “So, I’m glad to have the debate with him,” DeMint says, “but frankly, I’ve been working on health care for over 10 years. I think I know a lot more about how it works than he does. So I’m ready.” [Think Progress, 7/22/2009]
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele gives a very direct answer when asked if President Obama’s health care proposal constitutes socialism. During a presentation at the National Press Club, Steele is asked, “Does President Obama’s health care plan represent socialism?” He replies: “Yes. Next question.” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow notes that Steele is “very sure that reforming health care is socialism even if he’s not actually all that sure what health care policy is,” and plays a video clip of Steele saying at a recent press conference: “I don’t do policy. I’m not—I’m not a legislator.” Steele acknowledges that Republicans made similar assessments of Medicare when it was proposed in 1965, and says: “I think that there’s a legitimate debate there about the impact that Medicare and Medicaid are having on the overall fabric of our economy. I think, though, in this case, unlike 1965, the level of spending, the level of government control and intrusion is far greater and much more expansive than anything we’ve ever seen.… So I think that what we’re talking about here is something far beyond anything we’ve seen in 1965 or since 1965. This is unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector, period. And you can sweeten that any way you want, but it still tastes bitter. And I think the American people know that.” According to Steele, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other Democrats are part of a “cabal” that wants to implement government-run health care. “Obama-Pelosi want to start building a colossal, closed health care system where Washington decides. Republicans want and support an open health care system where patients and doctors make the decisions,” he says. Adding Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) into his statement, Steele continues: “Many Democrats outside of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Waxman cabal know that voters won’t stand for these kinds of foolish prescriptions for our health care. We do too. That’s why Republicans will stop at nothing to remind voters about the risky experimentation going on in Washington.” Obama and Congressional Democrats are moving too fast to try to enact health care reform, Steele says. “So slow down, Mr. President. We can’t afford to get health care wrong. Your experiment proposes too much, too soon, too fast. Your experiment with our health care could change everything we like about our health care, and our economy as well.” When asked why Republicans are not advancing their own health care proposals, Steele responds: “Now, you know, the Republicans can get up tomorrow and introduce its own bill, but you and I know how Washington works. The bill that matters is the one that the leadership puts in place. The Democrats have the leadership.” [Wall Street Journal, 7/20/2009; Associated Press, 7/20/2009; MSNBC, 7/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Michael Steele, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Henry A. Waxman, Medicare, Rachel Maddow, Medicaid, Nancy Pelosi, Republican National Committee
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, following up on claims that the Obama health care reform proposal would encourage elderly Americans to die sooner (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 17, 2009), tells his listeners that the reform proposal includes “[m]andatory counseling for all seniors at a minimum of every five years, more often if the seasoned citizen is sick or in a nursing home.… That’s an invasion of the right to privacy. We can’t have counseling for mothers who are thinking of terminating their pregnancy, but we can go in there and counsel people about to die.” The claim will soon be debunked (see July 23, 2009). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009]
The American Thinker’s Don Parker makes the false claim that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal will mandate end of life, or advance planning, counseling for every American senior citizen “at a minimum of every five years, more often if the senior is sick or in a nursing home” (see July 21, 2009). Parker cites the provision as being on pages 425-430 of HR 3200, the current version of the health care legislation now pending in the House of Representatives. Parker asks: “Just how many government trained counselors will that put into the work force? With an over 65 population of 38,000,000 US (Census, 2007), four counseling sessions daily, over 37,000, at a minimum, that’s how many. Plus their supervisors, plus the report readers, plus the oversight agency. Don’t even think that anyone should receive mandatory counseling regarding the end of life issues surrounding abortion; that’s a invasion of the right of privacy! ‘Counsel’ a senior about their end of life ‘choices’ under Obama Care? Somehow that’s not the same, so just keep your mouth shut.” [American Thinker, 7/21/2009] As many sources note (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and Late July, 2009), Parker’s claims are false. Such advance planning counseling sessions would be entirely voluntary, and would not encourage seniors to “die early.”
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) says that the Republican Party must ensure the total failure of the Obama administration’s attempt to reform American health care for the good of the party’s electoral chances in 2010. Appearing on a radio show, Inhofe says: “They [President Obama and the Democrats] ought to know, they ought to know from history. This is a losing proposition for them. And for those out there who believe, that would like to have something optimistic to look at, we are plotting the demise on a week by week basis of where Bill Clinton was in 1993 and where Obama is today and his demise ratio is greater than Clinton’s was in 1993. So, he’s trying to do the same things, except more extreme.” On another talk radio show, Inhofe adds: “I just hope the president keeps talking about it, keeps trying to rush it through. We can stall it. And that’s going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election.” [Town Hall (.com), 7/22/2009; Think Progress, 7/23/2009] Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) responds to Inhofe’s statements: “Slowly but surely the Republicans are revealing their true strategy on health care: partisans gamesmanship comes before getting something done. If Republicans believe doing nothing will ingratiate themselves with the American people, they have not learned a single lesson from the last two elections. Their do nothing approach is why health care costs have skyrocketed, and it’s why Republicans are in such a bad place today. This strategy is bad politics, but it is also a deeply troubling way to govern.” [Think Progress, 7/23/2009]
Patients First bus featuring the “Hands Off Our Health Care” slogan and bloody handprint logo. [Source: Associated Press]The citizens’ organization Patients First, a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, and May 29, 2009), schedules a 13-state bus tour. The tour is aimed at bringing conservative protesters to rallies and “town hall” meetings where the White House’s controversial health care proposals are being discussed. AFP’s board includes James Miller, a Federal Trade Commission chairman and budget director during the Reagan administration. The tour begins with a “tea party” rally in Richmond. According to AFP official Ben Marchi, organizers will urge constituents to call or visit their senators and sign a petition that asks members of Congress to “oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need.” The bus will make 26 stops in Virginia alone before journeying to North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Louisiana. Another bus will visit Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas, and Missouri. “Virginians are fired up about health care and what they see as an overreaching federal government,” Marchi says. “We don’t want legislators to come between them and their doctor. The relationship that exists between doctors and patients is sacred and should not be interfered with.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/23/2009; Politico, 7/28/2009]
CNN reports that millions could be saved per year by the so-called “end of life” discussions that the Obama health care proposal would have Medicare pay for, without a loss in the quality or availability of care. According to a recent study cited by CNN, $76 million per year could be saved “if half of the people who die from cancer annually had end-of-life conversations with their doctors.… [P]atients who reported having those talks had 36 percent lower health care costs in the final week of life.” Most of the savings would come from patients who do not want extraordinary measures taken to preserve their lives, but because hospitals have no such instructions, when a dying patient “codes,” or lapses into a terminal state, hospital doctors by default will use extraordinary methods to resuscitate them. Dr. Arthur Kellerman, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Emory University, says that many aging parents and grandparents avoid such discussions because of the strain they might place on their children and grandchildren. And the younger relatives often avoid these discussions because they don’t want to appear ungrateful or grasping. As for doctors: “There are a lot of my colleagues who don’t bother having that conversation. They just intubate them, and ship them up to an ICU, and say ‘next,’” Kellerman says. “Ultimately, it drives up costs, it degrades their quality of life, and you have less money and less resources available for people who really are salvageable and have a whole lot more time left on Earth.” Kellerman says when his own mother was at the end of his life, he had to use his position as a doctor to ensure that “do not call 911, do not send her to the hospital” was written on her chart so that she would be able to die in her nursing home. “You end up with a daughter at two in the morning, and Grandma is in respiratory failure, and we’re having a conversation in a family room in the ER about what Grandma wants,” Kellerman adds. “That conversation should have been with that grandmother and her daughter and her doctor and should have happened two years earlier, and it would have been easier on everybody.” The study shows that 60 percent of elderly patients prefer that their doctors not use extraordinary measures to preserve their lives. “Everybody wants their parents to live forever, everyone wants to live forever,” says Kellerman. “But the fact is that won’t happen, and you do need to think and plan ahead.” [CNN, 7/23/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and Representative Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI) issue a statement that warns the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal would provide for “government-encouraged euthanasia” of senior citizens. Boehner and McCotter’s statement reads: “Section 1233 of the House-drafted legislation [HR 3200, the most recent version of the reform proposal] encourages health care providers to provide their Medicare patients with counseling on ‘the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration’ and other end of life treatments, and may place seniors in situations where they feel pressured to sign end of life directives they would not otherwise sign. This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia if enacted into law. At a minimum this legislative language deserves a full and open public debate—the sort of debate that is impossible to have under the politically-driven deadlines Democratic leaders have arbitrarily set for enactment of a health care bill.” Boehner and McCotter also state that the reform bill would encourage state-assisted suicide: “With three states having legalized physician-assisted suicide, this provision could create a slippery slope for a more permissive environment for euthanasia, mercy-killing, and physician-assisted suicide because it does not clearly exclude counseling about the supposed benefits of killing oneself. Health care reform that fails to protect the sanctity and dignity of all human life is not reform at all.” [House Republican Leader, 7/23/2009] The next day, McCotter will add: “This is very dangerous. We, in Michigan, have already fought back in attempted assisted suicide several years ago. And yet you see that the people who support this are trying to use this bill to advance this agenda.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009] The statement is quickly challenged by Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who with Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) introduced a separate bill that would provide for end-of-life consultations for senior citizens. Both bills propose nothing more than having Medicare pay for such consultations, if the patients or the patients’ families desire them. “I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to see this type of reaction to a carefully crafted piece of legislation we have been working on for more than six months that is bipartisan and that speaks to the needs of American families,” Blumenauer says. “The American public, especially our senior citizens, deserve our best efforts to meet their needs—not treat them like political footballs.” A Boustany spokesman says the congressman stands behind the measure he co-authored, but says it should include language stating that taxpayer money would not be used to counsel patients on physician-assisted suicide. Two states—Oregon and Washington—allow physician-assisted suicide in certain situations, and the Montana Supreme Court is considering a lower-court ruling that found physician-assisted suicide to be a right under Montana’s Constitution. [Politico, 7/28/2009] Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters calls the statement’s analysis “repulsive.” [Media Matters, 7/24/2009] The characterization of the bill by Boehner and McCotter will be disproven by a St. Petersburg Times analysis (see July 23, 2009).
PolitiFact logo. [Source: Yahoo! Buzz]The St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” debunks the recent spate of claims by Betsy McCaughey (R-NY) that the Obama health care reform proposal would mandate ‘death counseling’ (see July 16, 2009) and encourage seniors to die sooner to save money (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Days later, the Annenberg Political FactCheck organization will come to the same conclusions.
'Advance Care Planning Consultation' - According to HR 3200, the latest version of the health care reform legislation, the relevant section is entitled “Advance Care Planning Consultation.” This details how Medicare would pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling sessions. According to the legislation: “such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.” Medicare will pay for one such session every five years, and will pay for interim sessions if a Medicare recipient’s health worsens in between those five-year sessions. Jon Keyserling, general counsel and vice president of public policy for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, which supports the provision, says the bill does not encourage seniors to end their lives, it just allows some important counseling for decisions that take time and consideration. “These are very serious conversations,” he says. “It needs to be an informative conversation from the medical side and it needs to be thought about carefully by the patient and their families.” According to Jim Dau of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the legislation does not encourage patients to end their lives. Dau says McCaughey’s claims are “not just wrong, they are cruel.” He adds: “We want to make sure people are making the right decision. If some one wants to take every life-saving measure, that’s their call. Others will decide it’s not worth going through this trauma just for themselves and their families, and that’s their decision, too.” Keyserling says it is clear to him and his organization’s lawyers that such end-of-life counseling sessions are purely voluntary, like everything in Medicare. “The only thing mandatory is that Medicare will have to pay for the counseling,” says Dau. A press release from the AARP says that McCaughey’s characterization of the health care bill is “rife with gross—and even cruel—distortions.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009; Annenberg Political Fact Check, 7/29/2009]
'Scare Tactics' - The St. Petersburg Times concludes: “For our ruling on this one, there’s really no gray area here. McCaughey incorrectly states that the bill would require Medicare patients to have these counseling sessions and she is suggesting that the government is somehow trying to interfere with a very personal decision. And her claim that the sessions would ‘tell [seniors] how to end their life sooner’ is an outright distortion. Rather, the sessions are an option for elderly patients who want to learn more about living wills, health care proxies and other forms of end-of-life planning. McCaughey isn’t just wrong, she’s spreading a ridiculous falsehood.” [St. Petersburg Times, 7/23/2009] The non-partisan FactCheck.org, an organization sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, will write: “In truth, that section of the bill would require Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care, including designating a health care proxy, choosing a hospice, and making decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It would not require doctors to counsel that their patients refuse medical intervention.” The organization will note that inflammatory “chain e-mails” are making the rounds making claims such as: “On Page 425 of Obama’s health care bill, the federal government will require EVERYONE who is on Social Security to undergo a counseling session every five years with the objective being that they will explain to them just how to end their own life earlier. Yes.… They are going to push SUICIDE to cut medicare spending!!!” FactCheck will respond: “In fact, [the part of the bill cited on p. 425] requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices—including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would ‘push suicide’ is a falsehood.” FactCheck will find that McCaughey “misrepresent[ed]” the bill in her claims, and she and other health care reform opponents are resorting to “scare tactics” to try to defeat the legislation. [Annenberg Political Fact Check, 7/29/2009]
Entity Tags: St. Petersburg Times, Medicare, Jon Keyserling, American Association of Retired Persons, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, FactCheck (.org), Jim Dau, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Obama administration
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York and a lobbyist for the health care industry, writes two frightening op-eds, one for the Wall Street Journal and one for the New York Post, that make false claims about the Democrats’ health care reform package. In the Journal, she claims that the bill contains a provision that would “pressure the elderly to end their lives prematurely,” a claim she has made before (see July 16, 2009). In the Post, she goes much farther, claiming that two of President Obama’s top health care advisers favor denying expensive health care treatments to senior citizens, the mentally disabled, and other “less productive” members of American society. She names Ezekiel Emanuel, a bioethicist, the health care adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and a member of the Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research. She cites a 2008 article by Emanuel in the American Medical Association’s journal, where he wrote that some doctors sometimes go too far, construing the Hippocratic Oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others.” McCaughey takes Emanuel’s words and accuses him of wanting “doctors to look beyond the needs of their patients and consider social justice, such as whether the money could be better spent on somebody else. Many doctors are horrified by this notion; they’ll tell you that a doctor’s job is to achieve social justice one patient at a time.” McCaughey states that Emanuel believes “medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled, not given to those ‘who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens…’ Translation: Don’t give much care to a grandmother with Parkinson’s or a child with cerebral palsy.” She also claims that Emanuel “explicitly” advocated denying health care to senior citizens in favor of providing treatment to younger patients. McCaughey claims that both Emanuel and Dr. David Blumenthal, the White House’s national coordinator of health information technology, favor “slowing medical innovation to control health spending” and denying patients access to advanced medical technology. According to McCaughey, Blumenthal also favors letting “computers tell… doctors what to do.” She concludes: “No one has leveled with the public about these dangerous views.… Do we want a ‘reform’ that empowers people like this to decide for us?” [Wall Street Journal, 7/23/2009; New York Post, 7/24/2009] A White House official later notes that McCaughey misrepresented Emanuel’s writings, and that Emanuel was describing positions and beliefs that he opposed in the same articles. ABC News’s Jake Tapper will note that Emanuel’s fellow doctors and medical ethicists know him as a fervent advocate of the rights of dying patients. [ABC News, 7/28/2009] And Emanuel himself will rebut McCaughey’s claims (see August 12, 2009). McCaughey’s previous claims about the dangers of health care reform, including her assertion that reform would encourage doctors to let senior citizens die, have been roundly debunked (see July 23, 2009).
Entity Tags: New York Post, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, David Blumenthal, Ezekiel Emanuel, Jake Tapper, Wall Street Journal, Federal Council on Comparative Effectiveness Research, Obama administration, Office of Management and Budget
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR), an anti-health care reform lobbying organization owned by former health care industry executive Rick Scott (see August 4, 2009), sends an e-mail to a listserv called the Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee detailing over 100 “town hall” meetings to take place during the August recess. All are to be hosted by Democratic members of Congress, and most will feature discussions of the White House/Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposals. [TPMDC, 8/3/2009] The Tea Party Patriots Health Care Reform Committee has hundreds of members on its mailing list, and cross-connects to other, larger mailing lists for anti-reform groups such as Conservatives for Patients Rights (CPR), Patients First, Patients United Now (an affiliate of Americans for Prosperity), and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). CPR features the same list of town hall meetings on its own Web site. The liberal news site TPMDC notes that the same listservs have featured blatantly racist messages such as pictures of President Obama with a bone through his nose (see July 28, 2009). [Conservatives for Patients' Rights, 7/2009; TPMDC, 8/3/2009]
Rep. Louis Gohmert. [Source: Associated Press / Washington Blade]Representative Louis Gohmert (R-TX) lays out a skein of theories on radical radio host Alex Jones’s broadcast. During his interview with Jones, Gohmert accuses the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats of trying to implement socialism and kill senior citizens; Jones and Gohmert compare Obama to a number of foreign despots. Gohmert tells Jones and his listeners: “We’ve been battling this socialist health care, the nationalization of health care, that is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early because they won’t get the treatment as early as they need.… I would rather stop this socialization of health care because once the government pays for your health care, they have every right to tell you what you eat, what you drink, how you exercise, where you live.… But if we’re going to pay 700 million dollars like we voted last Friday to put condoms on wild horses, and I know it just says an un-permanent enhanced contraception whatever the heck that is. I guess it follows that they’re eventually get around to doing it to us.” Gohmert is echoing claims by Republican lawmakers and industry lobbyists that the Democrats’ health care reform proposal will kill senior citizens (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009). Jones ups the ante by accusing the White House “science czar” of planning to “put… stuff in the water to sterilize us,” and then goes on to accuse the White House of, among other things, implementing a “eugenics control grid over us” and implementing “youth brigades, national service compulsory in a group outside the military under the Democratic Party control in the city year in the red and black uniforms.” Gohmert agrees with Jones, and says these kinds of policies were “done in the 1930s,” a plain reference to Nazi Germany, “and it’s not the only place its been done. It has been done throughout history.” Jones says, “Mao did it,” referring to Communist China’s Mao Zedong. Gohmert agrees: “Well, that’s exactly what I was thinking of. This is the kind of the thing we got to stop. We got to get back to the roots, the basics.” Gohmert praises Jones for his rhetoric and accusations: “That shows how on top of things you are, Alex.” For his part, Jones effusively thanks Gohmert and reminds him that “you’re there fighting and we’re supporting you.” [Think Progress, 7/27/2009] Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Gohmert and Jones: “You know, the Democrats may be fighting it out about whether they’re going to be beholden to the insurance companies and whether there’s going to be a public option in health care reform. But when it comes to the Republicans, this is the kind of thing they are bringing to the table: Hitler, Mao, and secret plots to kill old people.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Anti-health care reform protesters displays sign with swastika prominently featured. [Source: Paul Rhea]The Democratic National Committee and several national and local unions stage a rally in Austin, Texas, to support the White House’s health care reform proposals. Anti-health care protesters also appear, one of whom carries a sign with a Nazi symbol prominently displayed. The sign warns that anti-reform advocates want “no repeats” of Nazi Germany, apparently in reference to the reform proposals. [TX 912 Candidates, 8/5/2009; Philip Martin, 8/6/2009]
The conservative lobbying group Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009), in conjunction with the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition, organizes a large protest at a town hall meeting organized by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Michelle Sherrod, a McCaskill aide, intends to discuss the senator’s opinion on the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals with the protesters, but AFP volunteers and associated protesters have a different agenda. The AFP Web alert says, “We hope we can have a vigorous yet courteous exchange Monday evening,” but according to liberal blog OpenLeft, whose contributors videotape part of the proceedings for YouTube, the conservative protesters—numbering somewhere around 1,000—are disruptive, often preventing Sherrod and other citizens from asking or answering questions. AFP later calls the protest a “smashing success.” The Fox News blog, Fox Nation, celebrates the protest with the headline, “Tea Party Protest Erupts During Senator’s Town Hall!” [Americans for Prosperity, 7/24/2009; Open Left, 7/27/2009; St. Louis Business Journal, 7/27/2009; Americans for Prosperity, 7/28/2009; Fox Nation, 7/29/2009]
Frank Kratovil hung in effigy by a conservative protester. [Source: Joe Albero / Salisbury News]An angry conservative protester hangs Representative Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy in front of his office. Other conservative protesters rally around the effigy, waving signs and chanting anti-health care reform slogans. Conservative lobbying organization Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009) quickly distances itself from the incident, saying that it had nothing to do with the protest and disapproved of the tactic. AFP is helping organize raucous, disruptive anti-health care protests around the country. The next day, AFP spokeswoman Amy Menefee will write: “We held an event the previous night, where this man passed out flyers asking people to join him the next day at the office for a protest. That is how some AFP members ended up coming, but they were disgusted by his behavior. I repeat, this gathering WAS NOT an AFP event or sponsored by us in any way.” Conservative blogger Joe Albero, who took the picture featured in many news articles, calls the effigy “despicable” and accuses Democrats of “turn[ing] it around to be something it wasn’t.” [Washington Post, 7/28/2009] The liberal news and advocacy site Think Progress later identifies the protesters as members of Patients First, a subsidiary of AFP. [Think Progress, 7/28/2009] Reporter Glenn Thrush opines, “If this is the face of anti-health care reform protest, the GOP has a serious problem.” He also confirms that although AFP claims not to have sanctioned the protest, AFP members were in attendance. [Politico, 7/28/2009] Think Progress notes that Menefee, before joining AFP in the beginning of 2009, worked for the Galen Institute, a conservative think tank funded by medical-device and pharmaceutical corporations. [Think Progress, 7/31/2009] One of Kratovil’s colleagues, Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), calls the hanging a “shocking and despicable act of hate,” and says “Republicans must condemn it.” [Think Progress, 7/29/2009] The Democratic National Committee will use the photograph of Kratovil being hung in effigy in ads claiming that the “anti-reform mobs” are being “organized and largely paid for by Washington special interests and insurance companies who are desperate to block reform.” [Baltimore Sun, 8/6/2009]
Entity Tags: Glenn Thrush, Patients First, Galen Institute, Joe Albero, Republican Party, Think Progress (.org), Chris Van Hollen, Democratic National Committee, Frank Kratovil, Americans for Prosperity, Amy Menefee
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections
Lewin Group logo. [Source: WNY Media]The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” [Ingenix, 7/27/2009; MSNBC, 7/28/2009]
Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, Tom Price, UnitedHealth Group, Rachel Maddow, Lewin Group, Obama administration, Paul Ryan, Ingenix, John Boehner, Howard Dean, MSNBC, Newt Gingrich, Charles Grassley, John Barrasso
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Virginia Foxx. [Source: Watauga Watch]Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) says that the Obama administration’s health care proposals will put millions of elderly Americans at risk of being killed by the government. “Republicans have a better solution that won’t put the government in charge of people’s health care, that will make sure we bring down the cost of health care for all Americans, and that insures affordable access for all Americans, and is pro-life because it will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.” Huffington Post’s Jason Linkins notes that the Republican leadership in Congress has not actually proposed any alternatives to the Obama health care proposals. Liberal media watchdog site Media Matters writes, “Democratic legislation actually provides professional guidance for seniors’ difficult decisions—NOT to encourage euthanasia.” [Huffington Post, 7/28/2009; MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Following up on arguments that Congressional Democrats’ health care reform proposal would encourage senior citizens to die sooner (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, and July 24, 2009), conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners, “People at a certain age with certain diseases will be deemed not worth the investment, and they will just—as Obama said—they’ll give them some pain pills and let them loop out until they die and they don’t even know what’s happened.” During a phone-in town hall on health care the same day as Limbaugh’s broadcast, President Obama will say something quite different from Limbaugh’s characterization (see July 28, 2009). MSNBC host Rachel Maddow says of Limbaugh’s allegations later that evening: “‘Democrats want to reform health care because it’s a secret plan to kill people.’ This is the kind of thing that when it shows up on the floor of the House or in a town hall with the president, you get a little glimpse of crazy. But the nest for this kind of crazy, where this stuff is hatched, it’s among the conservative base and in the conservative media. Conservative talk radio is really where they let it all hang out.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
MacKilip’s altered photograph of Obama as a witch doctor. [Source: TPM Muckraker]Dr. David McKalip, a neurosurgeon, resigns as president-elect of the Pinellas County (Florida) Medical Association after circulating a graphic of President Obama dressed as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose. On July 23, he sent the graphic as an e-mail with the heading “Funny stuff,” and said that he thought the artist who created the graphic “was expressing concerns that the health care proposals [made by President Obama] would make the quality of medical care worse in our country.” McKalip is an outspoken opponent of the White House’s proposed health care reform package. He later apologized and denied he is a racist, and called the graphic merely a “satire.” In an e-mail to the members of the association, he writes, “For now, in the interest of protecting this movement from any collateral damage, I am withdrawing from making media appearances on health system reform.” But in an e-mail to fellow anti-reform protesters, he writes: “Here they come. The first of what likely will be many e-mails accusing me of being a rascist [sic] for forwarding this e-mail of Obama as a witch doctor. Almost like Hillary [Clinton] and the Obama photo form [sic] the presidential campaign.… This may be worth doing a story on about how these ultra-liberal groups like to race bait and avoid the issue.… Lesson learned: Any attempt to discuss politics will lead to a race-baiting war.… Don’t let them bait you. I will choose to ignore them and always talk about the issues.” In a previous e-mail defending his choice to send the Obama picture, McKalip cited his participation in a “career counseling day several years ago for African-American Boy Scouts.” [TPM Muckraker, 7/23/2009; Connexion, 7/28/2009] After learning of McKalip’s action, the association called the e-mail “inflammatory,” said it “denounced” McKalip’s act, demanded a public apology, and called itself “appalled by the statements and act” of McKalip. [Pinellas County Medical Association, 7/24/2009]
President Obama holds a “town hall” meeting on health care reform, sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The meeting is conducted by telephone at AARP’s Washington headquarters, where a small studio audience and approximately 180,000 callers from around the country listen and take part.
Rumor Control - In his introduction, AARP CEO A. Barry Rand tells the participants: “There’s a lot of misinformation about health care reform—even on what AARP stands for, and what AARP supports. This town hall is part of our ongoing effort to debunk myths and provide accurate information.… I want to make it clear that AARP has not endorsed any particular bill or any of the bills being debated in Congress today. We continue to work with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and with the administration to achieve what is right for health care reform.” AARP president Jennie Chin Hansen notes some of the most prevalent myths and misinformation about health care reform as expressed in previous AARP-sponsored town halls: “Like, will the government tell my doctor how to practice medicine?” For his part, Obama says: “Nobody’s trying to change what does work in the system. We are trying to change what doesn’t work in the system.” He reassures the participants that “Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits. I just want to make that absolutely clear.… [W]e do want to eliminate some of the waste that is being paid for out of the Medicare trust fund that could be used more effectively to cover more people and strengthen the system.”
Opposition Profiting from Status Quo - Of the anti-reform opposition, Obama says: “I know there are folks who will oppose any kind of reform because they profit from the way the system is right now. They’ll run all sorts of ads that will make people scared.… Back when President Kennedy and then President Johnson were trying to pass Medicare, opponents claimed it was socialized medicine. When you look at the Medicare debate, it is almost exactly the same as the debate we’re having right now. Everybody who was in favor of the status quo was trying to scare the American people saying that government is going to take over your health care, you won’t be able to choose your own doctor, they’re going to ration care.… You know what? Medicare has been extraordinarily popular. It has worked. It has made people a lot healthier, given them security. And we can do the same this time.” If nothing is done to change the status quo, Obama says, the cost of health care coverage will rise dramatically. “Health care costs are going up much faster than inflation,” he says, “and your premiums will probably double again over the next 10 years.… We’re already seeing 14,000 people lose their health insurance every day. So the costs of doing nothing are trillions of dollars over the next couple of decades—trillions, not billions… without anybody getting any better care.” Controlling health care inflation will allow the government to stabilize the Medicare trust fund: “[N]ot only can we stabilize the Medicare trust fund, not only can we help save families money on their premiums, but we can actually afford to provide coverage to the people who currently don’t have health care.”
End-of-Life Rumors - One caller is concerned about rumors surrounding end-of-life care. “I have been told there is a clause in there that everyone that’s Medicare age will be visited and told to decide how they wish to die,” she says. “This bothers me greatly, and I’d like for you to promise me that this is not in this bill.” The host elaborates: “As I read the bill, it’s saying that Medicare will, for the first time, cover consultation about end-of-life care, and that they will not pay for such a consultation more than once every five years. This is being read as saying every five years you’ll be told how you can die.” Obama replies, “Well, that would be kind of morbid,” and reassures the caller that the rumors are not true, adding, “Nobody is going to be knocking on your door.” He explains that one proposal would have Medicare pay for consultations between doctor and patients about living wills, hospice care, and other information critical to end-of-life decisions. “The intent here is to simply make sure that you’ve got more information, and that Medicare will pay for it,” he says. “The problem right now is that most of us don’t give direction to our family members, so when we get really badly sick… the [doctors] are making decisions in consultation with your kids or your grandkids and nobody knows what you would have preferred.” Obama is refuting rumors that claim under his reform proposal, elderly Americans would be encouraged to die sooner (see July 16, 2009 and July 23, 2009).
Pre-Existing Conditions - Insurers will no longer be able to deny care to people with so-called “pre-existing conditions.” Obama reflects on his mother, who died of cancer: “She had to spend weeks fighting with insurance companies while she’s in the hospital bed, writing letters back and forth just to get coverage for insurance she’d already paid premiums on. And that happens all across the country. We’re going to put a stop to that.… We’re going to reform the insurance system so that they can’t just drop you if you get too sick. They won’t be able to drop you if you change jobs or lose your job.… We want clear, easy-to-understand, straightforward insurance that people can purchase.”
Keeping Existing Coverage - Obama reassures another caller that she will not have to drop the coverage she has. “Here’s a guarantee that I’ve made: If you have insurance that you like, then you’ll be able to keep that insurance. If you’ve got a doctor that you like, you’ll be able to keep your doctor. Nobody is going to say you’ve got to change your health care plan. This is not like Canada where suddenly we are dismantling the system and everybody’s signed up under some government program. If you’ve already got health care, the only thing we’re going to do for you is, we’re going to reform the insurance companies so that they can’t cheat you.… If you don’t have health insurance, we’re going to make it a little bit easier for you to be able to obtain health care.” Those dissatisfied with their coverage, or who have no coverage at all, would have a wider array of choices, including, perhaps, a government-run plan (the “public option”).
Rationing Health Care? - One caller asks, “Even if I decide when I’m 80 that I want a hip replacement, am I going to be able to get that?” Obama responds: “My interest is not in getting between you and your doctor—although keep in mind that right now insurance companies are often getting between you and your doctor. [Decisions] are being made by private insurance companies without any guidance as to whether [they] are good decisions to make people healthier or not. So we just want to provide some guidelines to Medicare, and by extension the private sector, about what [treatments] work and what doesn’t.… We don’t want to ration by dictating to somebody [that] we don’t think this senior should get a hip replacement. We do want to provide information to [you and your doctor about what] is going to be most helpful to you in dealing with your condition.” He gives the following analogy: “If you figure out a way to reduce your heating bill by insulating your windows… you’re still warm inside. [But] you’re not wasting all that energy and sending it in the form of higher bills to the electric or gas company. And that’s then money you can use to save for your retirement or help your kid go to college. Well, it’s the same principle within the health system.” Obama is refuting claims by health care opponents that the government intends to ration health care and deny elderly patients needed treatment (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 28, 2009).
Reform Not 'Socialized Medicine' - Obama assures the participants that his vision of health care reform is not socialism under any guise. “A lot of people have heard this phrase ‘socialized medicine,’” he says. “And they say, ‘We don’t want government-run health care. We don’t want a Canadian-style plan.’ Nobody is talking about that. We’re saying, let’s give you a choice.” He recalls: “I got a letter from a woman the other day. She said, ‘I don’t want government-run health care. I don’t want socialized medicine. And don’t touch my Medicare.‘… I wanted to say, ‘That’s what Medicare is. It’s a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with.’”
Conclusion - Obama says he doesn’t expect a perfect health care system. “But we could be doing a lot better than we’re doing right now,” he says. “We shouldn’t have people who are working really hard every day without health care or with $8,000 deductibles—which means basically they don’t have health insurance unless they get in an accident or they get really sick. That just doesn’t make sense. So we’ve got to have the courage to be willing to change things.” After the town hall ends, AARP board chair Bonnie Cramer says she believes Obama “really made it very clear that Medicare beneficiaries will not see cuts in Medicare services.” By speaking directly to older Americans, Cramer says, “He put to rest a lot of their concerns.” [Slate, 7/28/2009; AARP Bulletin Today, 7/29/2009; McKnights, 7/29/2009]
Bernie Sanders. [Source: Down With Tyranny (.com)]Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a progressive independent who caucuses with Senate Democrats, explains to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow why Democrats are having so much difficulty winning broad support for their health care reform proposal. “There seems to be a gap between the seriousness of what’s actually being fought over in Washington right now and the level of discourse about it,” Maddow asks (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, and July 27, 2009). “Why do you think it is that there’s so much sideshow craziness about this issue?” Sanders responds that Democrats “have not been as clear as we should be in what, in fact, we are fighting for.” Sanders, a proponent of government-led “single-payer” health care, which would in essence supplement private health care and health insurance, says that because single-payer “is off of the table because of the power of the insurance companies and the drug companies,” the resulting proposals have become “pretty complicated… [opening] up opportunities for the extreme right-wing to come up with their crazy ideas.” Maddow says, “They’re sort of filling the vacuum of the lack of details that people don’t understand with craziness that people are willing to [believe].” The health care crisis is real, Sanders says, with thousands of Americans dying every year because of lack of access to doctors, and 1 million American families predicted to go bankrupt over staggering health care bills. But the discussion has been derailed, he says, into discussing “killing Grandma” and “rationing health care.” Sanders believes that the insurance companies, and their Republican and Democratic allies in Congress, are battling the so-called “public option”—providing a government-run health care alternative for people who can’t afford health care from the private providers—because they “are very afraid and rightfully so, that if given the choice, the people would gravitate towards a public plan because a public plan will not have the administrative costs, the huge CEO compensation costs, and the general bureaucracy that a [private] plan will have.” Besides, Sanders notes, “if you want to do any kind of cost containment, you need to have the competition from a public plan because without that, the private insurance companies will be out there on their own, being able to raise rates as much as they have in the past.” Health care corporations are spending $1.3 million per day lobbying lawmakers and other influential government officials, Sanders says, and health insurance and drug companies are spending millions on negative advertising. That kind of money has a powerful impact. “[W]ith all of that money coming into Capitol Hill,” he says, “I’m afraid that too many of my colleagues look at the world from the perspective of the insurance companies, from the drug companies who are charging us the highest prices for medicine in the entire world, rather than from the needs of ordinary Americans.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2009]
Slate reporter and columnist Christopher Beam coins a new term, “deathers,” to label conservatives who are spreading the debunked rumors that President Barack Obama’s health care proposals would kill old people (see July 16, 2009 and July 23, 2009). Beam publishes his article on the same day that Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) claims that under Obama’s reforms, seniors would be “put to death” (see July 28, 2009), and that Obama holds a “town hall” meeting where he debunks this and other rumors surrounding his proposals (see July 28, 2009). The claim apparently originated with lobbyist and lawyer Betsy McCaughey (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), who used similarly questionable claims to derail the 1994 reform proposals by the Clinton administration (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Others have made similar assertions; Representative Paul Broun (R-GA) recently warned that Obama’s reform proposals would “kill people” (see July 10, 2009), and conservative commentator and author Charlotte Allen says: “Obama’s not going to say, ‘Let’s kill them.’ But he seems to be perfectly comfortable with the idea that a lot more old people are going to die a lot sooner.”
End-of-Life Consultations - Beam shows that the language of the bill, as it stands in Congress at this time, provides for “end-of-life consultations” between patients and doctors, if the patients wish them. In those consultations, doctors would explain what kind of services are available to those patients—palliative care and hospices, in-home care, more intensive treatments in a hospital, etc.—but would not tell patients that they had to restrict themselves to less intensive treatments that would shorten their lives. Some “deathers” have also insisted that the bill provides for the withholding of “artificially administered nutrition and hydration.” McCaughey is a vocal proponent of this claim. However, such a choice would have to be made by the patient and/or the family, specifically not a doctor.
Shared Decision-Making - Opponents of health care reform such as McCaughey claim that the House bill would “coerce” seniors into taking part in a program that forces them into making decisions about “trade-offs among treatment options,” or takes the final decision-making power away from them and places it in the hands of doctors or government officials. In reality, the bill would provide an informational tool for patients and families to make informed decisions. No coercion could legally be applied.
Obama Staffers Cause Concern - Some of Obama’s staffers have said and written things that cause consternation among reform opponents (see July 23-24, 2009). One of Obama’s senior health care advisers, Ezekiel Emanuel, who serves as health policy adviser at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wrote in 2008 that doctors too often interpret the Hippocratic oath “as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others,” leading some to wonder if Emanuel would put cost concerns over patients’ needs; others have gone farther, comparing Emanuel to Nazi doctors and of advocating “eugenics.” In 1977, Obama’s “science czar,” John Holdren, joined two other authors in writing about possible methods of population control, including a speculative bit about sterilizing people by introducing chemicals into the water supply. (ABC News later reports that the controversial passage was from a textbook in which various methods of population control were considered and rejected. Holdren recently released a statement saying that population control is not the government’s job; his statements on the matter passed muster in the Senate Commerce Committee, whose Republican members joined Democrats in unanimously approving his nomination as the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.) And some worry that the proposed Independent Medicare Advisory Council, which would oversee cost containment for Medicare, would be staffed, in Allen’s words, with “a certain class of secularized intellectuals” who might put cost concerns over quality of life. [Slate, 7/28/2009; ABC News, 7/28/2009]
Entity Tags: John Holdren, Charlotte Allen, Barack Obama, Christopher Beam, Ezekiel Emanuel, Senate Commerce Committee, Elizabeth (“Betsy”) McCaughey, Office of Science and Technology Policy, Medicare, Virginia Foxx, Paul Broun
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Fox News actively promotes the September 12, 2009 march on Washington, the central focus of Fox host Glenn Beck’s “9/12 Project” (see March 13, 2009 and After). Beck and Fox News have promoted the event before now, and will continue doing so, as a “nonpartisan” rally that is not “about parties or politics or the president.” However, the Fox promotions routinely feature attacks on Democratic lawmakers (see October 13, 2009). One of the organizing groups for the rally, the Tea Party Express, provides a list of 28 congressmen and women, all Democrats, targeted for defeat in 2010, “who have betrayed their constituents by pushing through massive deficits, higher taxes, and government intervention into the private sector and private lives of American families.” One of the organization’s funders, the Our Country Deserves Better political action committee (OCDBPAC), was created to promote Republican candidates and oppose the Obama administration’s agenda. In 2008, OCDBPAC stated that its only objective was “to defeat [Barack] Obama,” and hosted numerous rallies for Republican candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin. OCDBPAC’s vice chairman Mark Williams has frequently challenged Obama’s citizenship, calling him a “Kenyan” by birth, and once called Obama “the former Barry Soetoro (see October 8-10, 2008), Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug turned anointed.” [Media Matters, 7/29/2009]
Governor Tim Kaine (D-VA), chairman of the Democratic Party, defends his party’s difficulties in moving its health care reform proposals through Congress. Interviewed by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Kaine says: “This is a heavy lift. Every president since President Truman has said, we need to find a health care future where we have a competitive insurance market and all Americans receive coverage. What we’ve seen happen in the last month or so is we now have bills that have passed through three different committees in the Senate and House. Two other committees are expected to take action very soon. We’re farther than we’ve ever been. It’s heavy lifting. It ain’t easy. We’re going to have to take the various bills and then make them into a workable plan.” Part of the reason why the legislation is moving so slowly is that Democrats are ideologically diverse, Kaine says. “[A]n awful lot of this debate is ultimately getting the Democrats to pull together and be results-focused rather than what has to be my plan or I’m not getting onboard.” The situation in the Republican Party is quite different, he continues: “What I’m looking for among Republicans is, you know, are there any Republicans who are going to stand up and say, ‘You’re right, this system needs fundamental reform and change?’ A system where 15 years ago, more than 60 percent of small businesses provided health insurance to their employees, and today, 38 percent do, and that number is dropping like a stone while the percentage of GDP that we spend on health care is going up. That system is broken. You don’t hear a single voice really among Republican leadership standing up and acknowledging that and saying we’ve got to make some changes.” [MSNBC, 7/30/2009]
Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a progressive Democrat who favors single-payer (government-provided) health care and is one of the strongest voices from the Democratic left in favor of the “public option” in health care reform, introduces an amendment to the pending health care reform legislation, HR 3200, that would eliminate Medicare. Weiner has no intention of actually trying to eliminate Medicare, instead he wants to get Republicans, who have repeatedly said they don’t want “government health care” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 28, 2009) to go on record as supporting Medicare, a government-run health care provider. Weiner tells interviewer Rachel Maddow: “I guess Republicans don’t like publicly funded, publicly administered health plans except for Medicare, and, I guess, except for the Veterans Administration and except for the health care that our military gets from the Department of Defense. The fact of the matter is, what we’ve learned is that government administered health care works pretty darn well. It’s got lower overhead and people like it. So, when my Republican colleagues pound the drum and pound the podium about how they hate government-run health care, I guess they haven’t looked at what they get.” Weiner says he introduced the amendment in part to embarrass House Republicans whose rhetoric on public health care he thinks has become quite harsh. [MSNBC, 7/31/2009]
Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Senate minority whip, says that the health care industry needs no further regulation or government intervention: “The health insurance industry is the most regulated or one of the most regulated industries in America. They don’t need to be kept honest by a competitor from the government.” Kyl is referring to the proposed “public option” in the Democrats’ pending health care reform legislation, which would provide a government-run alternative to private health care for millions of Americans. [MSNBC, 7/31/2009]
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says of the corporate-led resistance to health care reform (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, July 27, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, Before August 6, 2009, and August 6-7, 2009): “Insurance companies are out there in full force, carpet bombing, shock and awe against the public option. These are initiatives that are very important in this legislation, and they are to correct what the insurance companies have done to America and to the health of our people over the years.” Afterwards, Pelosi is equally blunt, telling reporters: “It is somewhat immoral what they are doing. Of course, they have been immoral all along how they have treated the people they insure. They are the villains in this. They have been part of the problem in a major way. The public has to know that.” [MSNBC, 7/31/2009]
Anti-health care reform proponents claim that the Democrats’ reform package will allow the government direct access to US citizens’ bank accounts. In some variants of the claim, the government will steal money from those accounts to fund the reform package. The claim is quickly disproven.
From an E-mailed 'Clearinghouse of Bad Information' - Apparently the claim originates in a “chain e-mail” sent out by an anonymous anti-reformer. The e-mail, which references its claims by page numbers from HR 3200, the pending House version of the reform legislation, is characterized by the St. Petersburg Times’s “PolitiFact” team as a hugely long e-mail that they call “a clearinghouse of bad information circulating around the Web about proposed health care changes.” The e-mail is apparently based in part on the work of Peter Fleckenstein, who sends frequent and regular commentaries on Twitter under the name “Fleckman,” and posts his analyses on his blog. Fleckenstein identifies his Twitter comments with the tag #tcot, which stands for “top conservatives on Twitter.” A health care analyst with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, Jennifer Tolbert, calls the e-mail “awful.… It’s flat-out, blatant lies. It’s unbelievable to me how they can claim to reference the legislation and then make claims that are blatantly false.” Tolbert is particularly offended by the e-mail’s claim that ordinary citizens will suffer a lack of health care in order to provide free care for illegal immigrants. Many of the e-mail’s other claims are equally wrong.
Based on Provision for Electronic Health Records - The claim that “[t]he federal government will have direct, real-time access to all individual bank accounts for electronic funds transfer” is based on a portion of the legislation that provides for electronic health records, including the enabling of “electronic funds transfers in order to allow automated reconciliation” between payment and billing. However, the government will not have access to citizens’ bank accounts and will not be able to make unauthorized withdrawals. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/30/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/11/2009]
Quick Promulgation - However, the lie quickly makes the rounds of conservative anti-reformers. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh cites the false claim numerous times on his radio broadcast; on August 6, he calls the program “[d]irect deposit access to every individual’s bank account,” and says: “That is in the House bill. You think that’s the worst thing in it. I’m not arguing with you, but there are things that are a greater abomination than that. I mean, this bill determines, the government’s going to determine who lives and dies. They are going to fund abortions and they are going to be for euthanasia on the back end” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, and August 10, 2009). On a local conservative radio show in early August, Representatative John Shadegg (R-AZ) calls the supposed provision “pretty Orwellian.” On August 11, a participant in a “town hall” forum hosted by Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) asks about the claim. [KFYI, 8/2009; Rush Limbaugh, 8/6/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/11/2009]
Similar to Automatic Bill Payment - Progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters notes: “[I]f you’re paying back a student loan from the government (like we are) and you’ve set up automatic bill pay online, this is the same thing. Completely uncontroversial, and totally not scary—unless if you’re trying to fearmonger.” [Media Matters, 8/6/2009]
Progressive author and columnist Joe Conason writes that if the Democrats’ attempt to reform health care fails, “much of the blame rests on our political culture’s empowerment of deception and ignorance. Fake erudition is revered, every hoax is deemed brilliant, and prejudice is presented as knowledge—while actual expertise is disregarded or devalued.” Conason points to two conservative commentators as primary founts of destructive misinformation: neoconservative publisher and cable news pundit William Kristol, and health industry lobbyist Betsy McCaughey (see January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, July 16, 2009, and July 23-24, 2009), whom Conason names as “the right-wing celebrities who worked so hard to kill the Clinton reform plan” in 1994 (see Mid-January - February 4, 1994). Conason labels McCaughey as “the source of the ‘elderly euthanasia’ hoax now circulating on the Internet, talk radio, and in right-wing media, which claims that Democratic health bills will force old, ill Medicare recipients into making plans for their own deaths” (see July 28, 2009). A thorough debunking of her claims by a variety of Congressional and media sources (see July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, and Late July, 2009) has done little to derail the impact on the media, and on the citizenry, that McCaughey’s claims are having. McCaughey’s falsehoods are being heavily, and effectively, promoted by Kristol and other conservative pundits (see July 17, 2009) on Fox News and other media outlets. Conason notes that Kristol, interviewed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, admitted that the government provides “first-class” healthcare to American soldiers and senior citizens (in the form of the Veterans Administration and Medicare) before trying, and failing, to back away from the admission. [Salon, 7/31/2009]
Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who co-authored the provision in the House health care reform legislation mandating that Medicare would pay for periodic “end-of-life” counseling sessions between patients and doctors, releases a fact sheet called “Myth vs. Fact: Advance Planning Consultations in HR 3200” (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009). Blumenauer writes: “Few areas are more vital for honest discussion and careful consideration than end-of-life care for America’s seniors. Unfortunately, families often do not know their loved ones’ preferences for end-of-life care and are not confronted with these difficult decisions until an emergency arises. This leaves spouses, sons, daughters, and grandchildren unprepared; as a result families struggle to make decisions in the midst of turmoil. The House health care legislation includes a provision (Sec. 1233) that provides seniors with better care as they grapple with these hard questions. This provision extends Medicare coverage to cover the cost of patients voluntarily speaking with their doctors about their values and preferences regarding end-of-life care. These are deeply personal decisions that take thoughtful consideration, and it is only appropriate that doctors be compensated for their time.” He then corrects three “myths” surrounding the provision:
Myth: Patients will be forced to have this consultation once every five years. In reality, he writes, such advance planning consultations are entirely voluntary; the provision mandates that Medicare will pay for one such consultation every five years if the patient chooses. Under certain circumstances, Medicare will pay for more frequent consultations.
Myth: Patients will be forced to sign an advance care directive (or living will). Blumenauer writes that no such mandate exists in the legislation, or is being contemplated. Like the advance planning consultations, living wills are entirely voluntary.
Myth: Patients will have to see a health care professional chosen by the government. The government will not choose any health care professionals for anyone. If a patient chooses to have an advance planning consultation, it will be with a doctor of his or her choosing.
Blumenauer notes that the following organizations have endorsed his provision: the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, the American College of Physicians, the American Hospice Foundation, the Center to Advance Palliative Care, Consumers Union, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, the Hospice and Palliative Nursing Association, Medicare Rights Center, the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the National Palliative Care Research Center, Providence Health and Services, and the Supportive Care Coalition. [US House of Representatives, 7/2009 ; Politico, 7/28/2009]
Entity Tags: Consumers Union, Center to Advance Palliative Care, American College of Physicians, American Association of Retired Persons, American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Supportive Care Coalition, Providence Health and Services, National Palliative Care Research Center, National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, Hospice and Palliative Nursing Association, Medicare, Gundersen Lutheran Health System, Earl Blumenauer, Medicare Rights Center, American Hospice Foundation
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
The Internet news site Politico reports on the quickly escalating confrontations occurring at “town hall” meetings held around the country, featuring conservative protesters agitating against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see Late July, 2009). Reporter Alex Isenstadt writes: “Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety—welcome to the new town hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.” The meetings, held by Democratic House members attempting to discuss the health care proposals with their constituents, have quickly devolved into confrontational events disrupted by shouting, cursing protesters waving signs and shouting down speakers, often before they can begin speaking.
Other Methods to Discuss Issue with Constituents - After one such meeting (see June 22, 2009), House member Tim Bishop (D-NY) says he will not hold more town halls until late August. “I had felt they would be pointless,” he says. “There is no point in meeting with my constituents and [to] listen to them and have them listen to you if what is basically an unruly mob prevents you from having an intelligent conversation.” He adds: “I have no problem with someone disagreeing with positions I hold. But I also believe no one is served if you can’t talk through differences.” Other Democrats such as Bruce Braley (D-IA), Allen Boyd (D-FL), and Thomas Perriello (D-VA) have experienced similar incidents at their own town hall meetings. Isenstadt characterizes the meetings as plagued by “boiling anger and rising incivility.” Braley explains the heated protests by saying, “I think it’s just the fact that we are dealing with some of the most important public policy issues in a generation.” Bishop notes: “I think in general what is going on is we are tackling issues that have been ignored for a long time, and I think that is disruptive to a lot of people. We are trying, one by one, to deal with a set of issues that can’t be ignored, and I think that’s unsettling to a lot of people.” Dan Maffei (D-NY), whose July 12 meeting at a Syracuse middle school was disrupted, says he is considering other options to avoid the confrontations. “I think you’ve got to communicate through a variety of different ways,” he says. “You should do the telephone town hall meetings. You should do the town hall meetings. You should do the smaller group meetings. It’s important to do things in a variety of ways, so you don’t have one mode of communication. You’re going to have people of varying views, and in this case, you’ve got the two extremes who were the most vocal.” Russ Carnahan (D-MO) says he enjoys the town hall meetings, and will not let disruptions stop him from holding them. Perriello agrees. “I enjoy it, and people have a chance to speak their mind,” he says.
Countering the Protesters - Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), has planned countermethods for the spate of meetings to be held during the August recess. According to sources familiar with the meetings Van Hollen has held, Van Hollen advised his fellow Democrats to “Go on offense. Stay on the offense. It’s really important that your constituents hear directly from you. You shouldn’t let a day go by [that] your constituents don’t hear from you.”
Continuing the Protests - Van Hollen’s Republican counterpart, Pete Sessions (R-TX), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), says the protests will continue. “We’ve seen Russ Carnahan, we’ve seen Tim Bishop, we’ve seen some other people face some very different crowds back home,” he says. “The days of you having a town hall meeting where maybe 15 or 20 of your friends show up—they’re over. You’ve now got real people who are showing up—and that’s going to be a factor.” Asked if the Republicans would use the confrontations against Democrats, Sessions says, “Wait till next year.”
Possible Backlash? - Democrats warn that Republicans will likely face a backlash in public opinion if the public perceives the party as being too closly aligned with tea party activists or other radical-right protesters. Former DCCC political director Brian Smoot says: “It’s a risk that they align themselves with such a small minority in the party. They risk alienating moderates.” [Politico, 7/31/2009]
Entity Tags: Dan Maffei, Brian Smoot, Allen Boyd, Alex Isenstadt, Chris Van Hollen, Tim Bishop, Russ Carnahan, Bruce Braley, Obama administration, Pete Sessions, National Republican Congressional Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Politico, Thomas Perriello
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
A screenshot from a Democratic National Committee ad highlighting phrases from the memo. [Source: Weekly Standard]The conservative Web site and political action committee (PAC) Right Principles releases a memo entitled “Rocking the Town Halls: Best Practices,” written by Bob MacGuffie, a founder of the organization and a volunteer with the “Tea Party Patriots,” a subsidiary of the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009). [Think Progress, 7/31/2009; Tea Party Patriots, 8/6/2009] The organization is very small—basically MacGuffie and four friends—and although MacGuffie volunteers with the aforementioned tea party group, he insists he and his organization have no connections to the much larger and well-funded FreedomWorks or other lobbying organizations that support anti-health care protests. “We are recommending with that memo that other grassroots groups that share our view should go to the town halls of their members and use the strategy that we did,” MacGuffie says. “We are trying to get into that town halls to make them understand that they do not have the unanimous support from people in their communities.” [TPMDC, 8/3/2009] Although the site either never posts the memo or takes it down shortly after, it quickly circulates throughout the conservative community (see July 23, 2009), and will be used to disrupt “town hall” meetings by Democratic House members, who intend to spend time during the August recess holding such meetings to discuss the Obama administration’s health care proposals. [Right Principles, 2009; Think Progress, 7/31/2009] MacGuffie later claims to have first e-mailed the memo to “8-10 community activists” in June. [Weekly Standard, 8/5/2009]
'Best Practices' - The memo advises conservative activists and protesters of the best ways to dominate and disrupt the town hall meetings. Basing the memo on actions conducted by Right Principles members and supporters during a May 2009 town hall meeting held by Congressman Jim Himes (D-CT), MacGuffie writes, “We believe there are some best practices which emerged from the event and our experience, which could be useful to activists in just about any district where their congressperson has supported the socialist agenda of the Democrat leadership in Washington.” Some of the steps include:
Artificially inflating numbers. “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
Being disruptive from the outset. “You need to rock the boat early in the rep’s presentation. Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the rep’s statements early.” The memo also advises, “Don’t carry on and make a scene, just short, intermittent shout-outs.”
Attempt to rattle or goad the speaker. “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
The memo also attaches some possible questions for the representatives, “which apply to most any Democrat that is supporting the socialist agenda,” it says. [Bob MacGuffie, 7/2009 ; Think Progress, 7/31/2009] Progressive news and advocacy Web site Think Progress will note that the questions closely resemble talking points handed out in July by FreedomWorks. [Think Progress, 7/31/2009] Liberal MSNBC host Rachel Maddow will accuse Right Principles of crafting a “how-to” manual for disruptive “rent-a-mob” activities. [Washington Times, 8/6/2009] The conservative Weekly Standard will accuse “liberal media” outlets such as Think Progress and MSNBC of “manufacturing outrage” over the memo, and prints MacGuffie’s denials of having any connections to FreedomWorks. “There is no formal connection,” he says. “I don’t know anyone from FreedomWorks.” [Weekly Standard, 8/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Weekly Standard, Tea Party Patriots, Right Principles, Jim Himes, Obama administration, Rachel Maddow, Think Progress (.org), FreedomWorks, Bob MacGuffie
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Professor Stephen Hawking. [Source: Quarkscrew (.com)]The conservative publication Investors Business Daily (IBD) writes an editorial harshly criticizing the Democrats’ health care reform package. The editorial repeats the debunked canard that the reform proposal will mandate allowing elderly, less “productive” citizens to die rather than pay to keep them alive (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 28, 2009). IBD compares the US health care system to Britain’s government-run National Health Service (NHS), claiming that in Britain health care is strictly rationed and routinely allows people to die if they don’t meet up with the criteria for paying for their care. “The British have succeeded in putting a price tag on human life, as we are about to,” the editorial claims. In the original version of the editorial, the editors write, “People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” The IBD editors are apparently unaware that Hawking was born in Oxford, England, lives in Britain, teaches at the University of Cambridge, and has been supported by Britain’s health care system for his entire life. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes: “You could write some long response to the rest of the lies and distortions in that IBD editorial, but the more appropriate reply is to just warn people against ever reading the editorial page in Investor’s Business Daily. It’s not just that they didn’t know that Stephen Hawking was born in England. It’s that the underlying point was wrong, as you’ll note from the continued existence of Stephen Hawking. They didn’t choose an unfortunate example for an accurate point. They simply lied.” Hawking himself tells Guardian columnist Hugh Muir: “I wouldn’t be here today if it were not for the NHS. I have received a large amount of high-quality treatment without which I would not have survived.” After the corrections, IBD alters the editorial to omit the Hawking reference, but does not acknowledge that Hawking has remained alive due to NHS medical interventions. [Investor's Business Daily, 7/31/2009; Washington Post, 8/10/2009; Guardian, 8/11/2009; Huffington Post, 8/13/2009]
Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA) holds a session designed to allow him to discuss the proposed health care reform package with his constituents on a one-on-one basis. The event, held at a restaurant in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, draws so many would-be participants, many of whom are unruly and volatile, that Murphy agrees to change the format and discuss health care and other issues with the entire group. Murphy’s remarks are received with shouts, screams, curses, and repeated attempts to interrupt Murphy with slogans and chanting, mostly from conservative anti-reform protesters. According to a local reporter, Murphy “kept his cool, listening to people’s concerns and defending his plans while occasionally asking hecklers ‘to be respectful.’” Murphy holds a second, equally contentious meeting at a local grocery store, although, a reporter notes, “the crowd seemed more evenly divided politically at the supermarket than the restaurant.” Murphy says: “The great thing about Bucks County is that people really can be very passionate. So that’s why I don’t flinch and give them their chance to talk while most of my colleagues are putting their heads in the sand.” At both meetings, Murphy draws an extended session of boos and catcalls when he tells the crowds, “I happen to think [President Obama is] doing a pretty great job.” He repeatedly calls the present health care system “unsustainable,” and stresses that he supports the so-called “public option,” which would allow people to choose between a private and government-supervised health care plan. He also says that if the public option becomes available, he and his family will use it. He is repeatedly asked whether the various health care proposals contain provisions for mandating the “euthanasia” of elderly people, which none of the proposals feature. And he insists that the reform package will benefit small business owners and will not raise taxes for ordinary Americans. One anti-reform protester shouts, “A national health care bill would rob us of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to which a pro-reform advocate retorts: “You’ve had your say. Now shut your mouth.” Murphy intervenes: “Let him speak,” he says. One resident says after the meetings: “Deciding to open up the question to the full crowd was a good idea, but I think many people are still confused as to what the bill is trying to accomplish. The question is, what type of health care will be available to citizens, and at what price?” Another audience member praises Murphy’s calm in the face of sometimes-ugly opprobrium. “If I was in his shoes, I don’t think I could have done it,” he says. “He was very respectful and did a good job trying to keep tempers down.” [Bucks County Courier Times, 8/2/2009]
Anti-reform protesters carry signs depicting Doggett with ‘devil horns’ and a sign featuring Nazi SS lettering. [Source: Raw Story]Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) receives a hostile reception in a town hall meeting in an Austin grocery store. The meeting is to discuss the controversial Democratic health care reform proposal. The crowd is much larger than some had anticipated, and apparently packed with anti-health care reform protesters; anti-reform and anti-Obama signs are prominently displayed, including signs that read, “No Socialized Health Care.” Protesters also wave signs with Doggett depicted with devil horns, of a marble tombstone with Doggett’s name on it, and with slogans alleging Democrats are Nazis. When Doggett tells the crowd that he will support the reform plan even if his constituents oppose it, many in the crowd begin chanting “Just say no!” and, according to news reports, “overwhelm… the congressman as he move[s] through the crowd and into the parking lot.” One resident says of the meeting: “The folks there thought their voices weren’t being heard. They were angry, but they were respectful. There wasn’t any violence.” Another says, laughing: “He jumped in [his car] and fled. It was like he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. It was a beautiful thing.” Doggett later notes that because of the disruption, he is unable to engage in discussion with constituents who have other issues, including a father who wants his help in getting his son into a military academy. [Austin American-Statesman, 8/3/2009; New York Times, 8/3/2009; Atlantic Monthly, 8/4/2009]
Congressman: Protesters a 'Mob' - Doggett will later characterize the anti-reform protesters as a “mob.” In a statement, he says: “This mob, sent by the local Republican and Libertarian parties, did not come just to be heard, but to deny others the right to be heard. And this appears to be part of a coordinated, nationwide effort. What could be more appropriate for the ‘party of no’ than having its stalwarts drowning out the voices of their neighbors by screaming ‘just say no!‘… Their fanatical insistence on repealing Social Security and Medicare is not just about halting health care reform but rolling back 75 years of progress. I am more committed than ever to win approval of legislation to offer more individual choice to access affordable health care. An effective public plan is essential to achieve that goal.” [Politico, 8/3/2009; CBS News, 8/3/2009]
Coordinated by Local Republicans, Washington Lobbyist Firm, 'Tea Party' Group - The protest is coordinated by Heather Liggett, a local Republican Party operative, and by officials with the lobbying firm Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which has organized numerous anti-tax “tea party” demonstrations (see April 15, 2009 and May 29, 2009). Liggett confirms she is part of a national network of conservative organizers putting together anti-reform protests. Doggett says: “This is not a grassroots effort. This is a very coordinated effort where the local Republican Party, the local conservative meet-up groups sent people to my event.” Of the event itself, he says: “In Texas, not only with the weather but with the politics, it is pretty hardball around here. I have a pretty thick skin about all of this. But this really goes over the line.” And Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), adds: “Conservative activists don’t want to have a conversation. They want to disrupt.” [New York Times, 8/3/2009] Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesman Brad Woodhouse says, “The right-wing extremists’ use of things like devil horns on pictures of our elected officials, hanging members of Congress in effigy, breathlessly questioning the president’s citizenship, and the use of Nazi SS symbols and the like just shows how outside of the mainstream the Republican Party and their allies are.” Another group with connections to the “tea party” movement, “Operation Embarrass Your Congressman,” helped organize the protest. It says on its Web site: “These arrogant, ignorant, and insolent [Congress members] have embarrassed America, trampled the Constitution, and ignored their constituents for far too long. Attend their townhall meetings during recess and press them with intelligent questions (unlike the mainstream media), asked in an intelligent manner to see if they are really in touch and on board with ‘the will of the people.’” [CBS News, 8/3/2009] After the meeting, FreedomWorks, a conservative lobbying organization that actively promotes disruptive behavior at Congressional town halls (see April 14, 2009), posts video from the meeting, and exhorts its members, “If you know of a town hall meeting your Congressman is having, be sure to show up, bring some friends, and them know what you think.” [FreedomWorks, 8/3/2009]
Conservative blogger and commentator Michelle Malkin, on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” calls the “tea party movement” opposing taxes and health care reform “counterinsurgencies.” Malkin says there is a growing “tea party movement—these counterinsurgencies amongst taxpayer rights groups,” that is fomenting opposition to health care reform. She claims that these “counterinsurgencies” will escalate their confrontation behaviors in what she calls “town halls-gone-wild.” And, Malkin says, the “counterinsurgents” are members of true “grassroots” organizations (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009). [Think Progress, 8/2/2009]
Fox News covers the Sebelius/Specter town hall meeting. [Source: Eyeblast (.org)]Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) hold a meeting at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia to discuss the White House’s health care reform proposals. A large and vocal crowd of anti-reform protesters attempts to shout over, or shout down, both Sebelius and Specter during the event. Over 400 people attend the meeting, and many “cheered, jeered, and booed” the two, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Sebelius’s response to the crowd: “I’m happy to see democracy is at work.” The Inquirer reports, “Sebelius and Specter managed, barely, to impose a tenuous civility on the hour-long meeting titled ‘Health Insurance Reform—What’s in it for You.’” At one point, the booing and screaming become so pervasive that Sebelius informs the crowd, “We can shout at one another, or we can leave the stage.” Audience members verbally engage with each other as well: one, a self-identified Republican “political junkie,” says the nation cannot afford to insure 47 million uninsured Americans, and is countered by a rheumatologist who works with underinsured and uninsured patients, and who describes the horrific situations many of them face. One anti-reform participant tells the pair, “The American people don’t want rationed health care,” winning cheers from many in the audience. When Sebelius retorts that health care is already rationed for the 12,000 people a day whose insurance disappears when they lose their jobs, she wins applause from other audience members. About a dozen members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are there to support Sebelius and Specter, and some members of the pro-reform group Physicians for Obama are also in attendance. Countering them are numerous audience members with “Tell Washington No” bumper stickers plastered to their chests. One anti-reform organization, the Philadelphia Tea Party Patriots, will later claim to have around 40 members in attendance. Outside the hall, dozens of anti-reform protesters picket with signs saying, among other slogans, “Government Health Care: Dangerous to Your Health,” “Welcome to the United States Socialist Republic,” and various anti-abortion signs. After the meeting, Sebelius says: “Health care touches everybody personally.… I find it difficult, because so much misinformation gets repeated in questions at town hall meetings. We have a challenge to get the message out.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/3/2009] After the meeting, FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009), a lobbying organization that actively promotes the town hall disruptions by conservative protesters, calls the event “a must emulate at town halls across the country over the next month.” [FreedomWorks, 8/3/2009]
The lobbying group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), funded by nearly 1,300 health care providers and other medical companies, urges its members’ employees to, in AHIP’s words, “GO TO TOWN MEETINGS WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS IN AUGUST TO CONFRONT THEM on House Democrats’ top recess message—that health reform legislation is ‘health insurance reform to hold insurance companies accountable’” (all caps from the source). AHIP plans on releasing negative television ads opposing the Obama administration’s health care reform proposals. According to AHIP spokesman Robert Zirkelbach: “The American people want Washington to focus on solutions, not the same old divisive political rhetoric that hasn’t worked in the past. Our industry has offered to completely transform how health insurance is provided today. We have stepped up to do our part to make health care reform a reality. That’s an INCONVENIENT FACT that some people have chosen to ignore. These attacks are politically motivated, and they ignore the significant commitment that our industry has made to the health reform process. WE’RE GOING TO BE VERY ACTIVE. We have people on the ground in more than 30 states. There are thousands of industry employees WHO HAVE NOW HAD THEIR INTEGRITY CALLED INTO QUESTION. They want to have their voices heard as part of this. We have contacted all of our member companies and encouraged them to get involved. August is a great time because of the face-to-face interaction with members.” [Campaign for an American Solution, 8/2/2009]
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