Political Diagnosis: Hijacking Healthcare Reform

By Christine Cupaiuolo — August 11, 2009

The White House Strikes Back: Faced with mixed public support and increasing disruptions at town hall meetings orchestrated by right-wing groups, the Obama administration yesterday launched a new website to help get out the facts on healthcare reform: WhiteHouse.gov/RealityCheck

President Obama also went on the offensive today, telling a friendly town hall audience in Portsmouth, N.H., “For all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary is if we do nothing.”

The New York Times leads off a story on the new website by noting it was created to “fight questionable but potentially damaging charges that President Obama’s proposed overhaul of the nation’s health care system would inevitably lead to ‘socialized medicine,’ ‘rationed care’ and even forced euthanasia for the elderly.”

The Times’ Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes add that White House officials are also “tacitly acknowledging a difficult reality: they are suddenly at risk of losing control of the public debate over a signature issue for Mr. Obama and are now playing defense in a way they have not since last year’s campaign.”

But Media Matters offers another reason — the White House needs to go around the news media, which has been less than helpful in debunking the smears. Matt Gertz writes:

The White House is doing it because they realize that the media is unwilling or unable to call those smears false, instead – just to pull an example out of thin air – referring to misleading-to-ridiculous claims that Democratic proposals “would inevitably lead to ‘socialized medicine,’ ‘rationed care’ and even forced euthanasia for the elderly” as “questionable but potentially damaging charges.”

What makes this particular case even more absurd is that just yesterday, the Times published “A Primer on the Details of Health Care Reform.” Unfortunately, Rutenberg and Calmes don’t seem to have read it.

If they had, they might have written that claims that health care reform would lead to “socialized medicine” “seem overblown” because “[m]ajor versions of the legislation all rely heavily on a continuation of private health plans” and the CBO has found that under the House bill, 3 million more people would have employer-sponsored insurance in 2016 than would be expected under current law. They also might have called the “euthanasia” claims “unfounded” or noted that the AARP says they’re “flat-out lies.”

Plus: Head over to AlterNet to read “Inside Story on Town Hall Riots: Right-Wing Shock Troops Do Corporate America’s Dirty Work.” Adele Stan chronicles ties between the GOP and the extreme-right Web network Grassfire.org, which is organizing town-hall protesters against healthcare reform. Over at sibling site ResistNet.com, comments have included threats of violence and a video racist screed against President Obama.

Campaign Costs: The whole healthcare debate has the feeling of a political race — along with the campaign ad costs. More than $52 million has been spent this year on ads, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group.

“This has the potential to certainly be the biggest [ever] as far as an advocacy advertising campaign goes,” Evan Tracey, CMAG’s chief operating officer, told the Washington Post.

Reform? Insurance Companies Say Bring it On: Business Week writers Chad Terhune and Keith Epstein have written an in-depth piece detailing how UnitedHealth and and other insurance carriers are operating behind the scenes to shape healthcare reform for their own benefit. Their focus is on the more conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who now wield great power in the healthcare debate:

Some Republicans have threatened to make health reform Obama’s “Waterloo,” as Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina has put it. The President has fired back at what he considers GOP obstructionism. Meanwhile, big insurance companies have quietly focused on what they see as their central challenge: shaping the views of moderate Democrats.

The industry has already accomplished its main goal of at least curbing, and maybe blocking altogether, any new publicly administered insurance program that could grab market share from the corporations that dominate the business. UnitedHealth has distinguished itself by more deftly and aggressively feeding sophisticated pricing and actuarial data to information-starved congressional staff members. With its rivals, the carrier has also achieved a secondary aim of constraining the new benefits that will become available to tens of millions of people who are currently uninsured. That will make the new customers more lucrative to the industry.

In Other News: The American College of Nurse Midwives has endorsed the House bill, HR 3200, saying the legislation will “improve the health status of women and their newborns.”

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