Wash. Post uncritically reports “socialized medicine” rhetoric about Obama's health care plan

In an article on President Obama's health care plan, The Washington Post reported that Conservatives for Patients' Rights is promising to launch a multimillion-dollar ad campaign “warning that the country is hurtling toward socialized medicine.” The Post did not provide any basis for the charge, nor did it note that, in fact, Obama is not proposing “socialized medicine.”

In a March 5 Washington Post article on President Obama's healthcare proposal, staff writers Dan Eggen and Ceci Connolly reported that Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR) “promises a $20 million multimedia ad campaign warning that the country is hurtling toward socialized medicine.” Eggen and Connolly did not provide any basis for CPR's charge and did not note that Obama has not, in fact, proposed a “socialized medicine” plan, a charge that conservatives have used repeatedly to baselessly attack progressive health care reform proposals.

According to the White House health care web page: “On health care reform, the American people are too often offered two extremes -- government-run health care with higher taxes or letting the insurance companies operate without rules. President Obama and Vice President Biden believe both of these extremes are wrong.”

The White House website further states:

The Obama-Biden plan provides affordable, accessible health care for all Americans, builds on the existing health care system, and uses existing providers, doctors, and plans. Under the Obama-Biden plan, patients will be able to make health care decisions with their doctors, instead of being blocked by insurance company bureaucrats.

Under the plan, if you like your current health insurance, nothing changes, except your costs will go down by as much as $2,500 per year. If you don't have health insurance, you will have a choice of new, affordable health insurance options.

Further, one of the “eight principles” for the health care reform plan put forward in Obama's budget outline is “Guarantee Choice,” about which the outline states: “The plan should provide Americans a choice of health plans and physicians. They should have the option of keeping their employer-based health plan.”

As Media Matters has documented, such false rhetoric was used against the health care reform plan Obama proposed during the 2008 presidential campaign. The New York Times reported in a May 3, 2008, article that Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain repeatedly “inaccurately described the Democrats' health care proposals, using language that evokes the specter of socialized medicine.” The article quoted McCain claiming that Obama favors a “government massive intervention and takeover of health care in America,” writing that McCain's “suggestion is incorrect.” Additionally, PolitiFact.com has noted that “Obama's plan keeps the free-market health care system intact, particularly employer-based insurance. It is not a goverment-run [sic] program and is very different from the health care systems run by the government in some European countries.”

As Media Matters for America has extensively documented -- with respect to at least 16 different health care reform initiatives going back to the 1930s -- conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh, have attempted to smear these proposals as “socialized medicine” or a step toward that inevitable result. In fact, as with many progressive health care proposals in the past, Obama's proposal does not amount to “socialized medicine.”

Additionally, the Post reported that the head of CPR, Richard Scott, was “pushed out of Columbia/HCA [Healthcare Corp.] in the 1990s” but did not report that, according to a July 26, 1997, Post article (retrieved from Nexis), Scott's resignation occurred when Columbia/HCA was "[u]nder pressure from one of the largest health care fraud probes ever." According to a December 18, 2002, Justice Department press release describing a tentative settlement with HCA to resolve civil litigation, “When added to the prior civil and criminal settlements reached in 2000, this settlement would bring the government's total recoveries from HCA to approximately $1.7 billion.”

From the Post's July 26, 1997, article:

Under pressure from one of the largest health care fraud probes ever, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. yesterday announced the resignation of its two top executives.

Columbia's new chief said the departing executives reached the decision with the company's board, “saying 'with you we do concur this is time' ” to leave.

Columbia co-founder Richard L. Scott, 44, the departing chairman and chief executive, and David T. Vandewater, 46, who resigned as president and chief operating officer, had built Columbia into the nation's largest health care company through a decade-long buying spree in which it acquired giant hospital chains and small community hospitals across the nation.

The company “could have been put at risk” by the government “if the board had not taken this action,” the new chairman and chief executive, Thomas F. Frist Jr., said in an interview. “Maybe it might have been an impediment” to the organization going forward if Scott and Vandewater “prolonged it,” Frist said at a news conference at Columbia's Nashville headquarters.

Columbia issued a statement saying Scott and Vandewater “emphasized that throughout their tenure they have acted honorably and in the best interests of the company.” Neither responded to telephone calls yesterday.

From Eggen and Connolly's article:

Not everyone is happy, of course, and lobbyists and health-care experts warn that major obstacles lie ahead. The seniors lobby AARP, for example, opposes Obama's recommendation to raise Medicare prescription premiums on wealthy retirees. Major insurers also dislike his proposed overhaul of the Medicare Advantage program, which markets managed-care plans to seniors, while home-care providers object to cuts to their Medicare reimbursements.

Former Columbia/HCA executive Richard L. Scott has launched a nonprofit group called Conservatives for Patients' Rights, which promises a $20 million multimedia ad campaign warning that the country is hurtling toward socialized medicine. Scott, who was pushed out of Columbia/HCA in the 1990s and now runs a chain of Florida urgent-care clinics, said in an interview that he has put up $5 million of his own money to kick-start the effort, with hopes of building a grass-roots campaign.

“Imagine waking up one day, and all your medical decisions are made by a central national board,” Scott says in the group's first radio ad, which warns of “a system like England or Canada, where national boards make your health-care decisions and waiting lists reign supreme.”