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Warring Sides on Health Care Carry Their Fight to TV and Radio Ads

Resource type: News

The New York Times |

Original Source

Health Care for America Now is an Atlantic grantee.


WASHINGTON — The battle over the future of health care has taken to the airwaves, with interest groups spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television and radio advertisements supporting or attacking legislation they expect to emerge from Congress.

Five Congressional committees hope to approve the legislation next month, and the pace of the advertising has picked up this week, just days before lawmakers return to work from a one-week recess.

In some ways, the dueling advertisements are mirror images of each other. For instance, one says that you don’t want the government between you and your doctor, another that you don’t want the insurance company between you and your doctor.

Supporters of a sweeping health care overhaul, like Health Care for America Now, a consumer group, say Congress must ensure coverage for everyone and create a new public insurance plan that would compete directly with private insurers. Business Forward, a new coalition that includes AT&T, Microsoft and I.B.M., began running radio spots in Indiana and Arkansas this week, urging business executives to work with President Obama and Congress in “reforming health care.”

Advertisements by critics, like the Americans for Prosperity Foundation and Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, warn against any expansion of the federal role, saying it would degrade the health care that millions of Americans already have. These television commercials assert that Democratic proposals could limit access to care and lead to longer waits for medical services and some prescription drugs.

In a 30-minute video being run on cable networks and the local NBC affiliate here, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights shows doctors and patients in Britain and Canada who assert that health care systems there sometimes fail to deliver needed care.

The conservative group was founded by Richard L. Scott, who was removed as chief executive of the Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation in 1997, when that hospital company was caught up in a fraud scandal. Keith Appell, a spokesman for the group, said it was spending $1.2 million on the video and a campaign of short TV spots with the same message. Earlier this year, Mr. Appell said, the group spent $2.5 million on similar television and radio ads.

Comparable attacks helped sink President Bill Clinton’s plan for universal coverage 15 years ago, an outcome critics hope to repeat.

A White House spokeswoman, Linda Douglass, said the advertisements were not surprising.

“Health care is an emotional issue for many people, a very personal issue, and there are people who take a very ideological approach,” Ms. Douglass said.

Amy Menefee, a spokeswoman for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which describes itself as a champion of free-market ideas, said it had spent $800,000 on television ads that began running this week in eight states: Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Virginia.

Ms. Menefee said the foundation had more than 22,000 donors nationwide, but she would not identify any. The foundation and its health care project,, also plan rallies this summer to highlight the risks of “government-run health care.”

In the foundation’s spots, a woman identified as Shona Holmes of Waterdown, Ontario,says: “I survived a brain tumor. But if I’d relied on my government, I’d be dead. I’m a Canadian citizen. As my brain tumor got worse, my government health care system told me I had to wait six months to see a specialist.”

Ultimately, Ms. Holmes says, she obtained treatment in the United States.

An announcer then says: “Washington wants to bring Canadian-style health care to the United States. But government should never come between your family and your doctor.”

By contrast, just south of the Canadian border, residents of Maine saw a television advertisement this week in favor of a health care overhaul, including the choice of a public insurance plan.

In this commercial, run by Health Care for America Now, Dr. Bethany Picker of Lewiston, Me., says, “Doctors and patients together should be making health care decisions, not the insurance companies.”

In the same advertisement, Dr. Karen Hover, a family physician in Bangor, Me., says, “It’s important that people have a choice between keeping the plan that they are happy with and choosing a public insurance plan.”

In the spot’s final seconds, a message appears on the screen urging viewers to register their support for a public health insurance option with Maine’s senators, Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins, both Republicans.

Jacki Schechner, a spokeswoman for Health Care for America Now, said the group had received more than $15 million, most of its money, from a foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, with the rest coming from labor unions, civil rights groups and other organizations represented on its steering committee.

The group has also run TV spots this month in six other states: Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon and Pennsylvania.

In these advertisements, Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, an anesthesiologist in Philadelphia, says Congress must create “a new public health insurance plan, with good benefits, at a price you can afford, so we’re no longer at the mercy of insurance companies.”

Ms. Schechner said her group had spent $200,000 on television advertisements in the last month.

“We are planning plenty more,” she said. “This is just the beginning.” 

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