We’ve seen this before. Hospitals, insurers, prescription-drug manufacturers, and other moneyed interests become concerned when politicians promise big health-care reforms harmful to their bottom line, especially when they see public support for such reforms increasing.
So they spend huge amounts of money to scare voters into opposing change. In the early 1960s, the American Medical Association raised the specter of “socialized medicine” in an unsuccessful effort to stop Medicare. In the early 1990s, insurers funded the Harry and Louise advertisements to stop President Bill Clinton’s health reform initiative. A decade ago, opponents of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act falsely claimed it would lead to death panels.
Many of them are at it again. Politico reports that insurers, big pharma, and hospitals have joined together in a “multimillion-dollar cooperative designed to overwhelm not just the swelling Medicare for All movement, but every single Democratic proposal that would significantly expand the government’s role in health care.” The group, which calls itself the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, is spending millions on TV ads in the early 2020 presidential primary and caucus states, and Facebook ads targeted to swing states, including Pennsylvania.
The Partnership plays fast and loose with the truth. Its website falsely claims: “Whether you call it Medicare for All, Medicare buy-in, single-payer or the public option – a one-size-fits-all approach to health care will lead to the same consequences for Americans. All these new proposals would ultimately eliminate patient choice and control over their coverage and force every American off their current plan and into a single, government-controlled health insurance system.”
They’re not at all the same. A Medicare-type plan without private insurance would have a very different impact than giving people a choice of enrolling in a public plan or keeping private insurance.
Eliminate patient choice and control over coverage? Both Medicare-for-All and a public option model themselves on the traditional Medicare program for seniors, which offers unlimited choice of physician. In private insurance, most people don’t choose their coverage, their employer decides, and access to clinicians is limited to the insurer’s narrow provider networks. What kind of control do people really have over their coverage when private insurers get between them and their doctor, requiring that they go through bureaucratic hoops to get needed care authorized?
The Partnership needs to be taken seriously because its message-tested anti-reform advertising works, and it has the big bucks required to keep it going.
There’s one big difference this time from past experiences when special interests blocked needed reforms: For the most part, it doesn’t have the doctors behind it. The AMA, to its credit, dropped out of the Partnership in August. The current roster of organizations supporting the Partnership identifies only one physician membership society; none of the largest physician membership organizations belong.
The Philadelphia-based American College of Physicians, which represents internal-medicine physicians and is the largest specialty society in this country, supports universal coverage including publicly funded coverage. I head ACP’s advocacy arm and have informed our members about the Partnership’s dangerous disinformation campaign.
We don’t have the millions of dollars to go toe-to-toe against the insurers, hospitals, and drug manufacturers. We have something they don’t have: the voices of physicians who each and every day see patients who skip a follow-up appointment or don’t take life-saving medications because they can’t afford them. Physicians know that this time, we can’t let the big-money groups get away with blocking needed reforms, because it’s their patients’ lives at stake.