Fact-Checking FRC’s Health Care Ad

Last week we posted the Family Research Council’s television ad opposing health care reform which claims that the legislation would mandate coverage for abortion while denying seniors needed medical coverage.

Factcheck.org took at look at the claims made by FRC in the ad and concluded that they were misleading, if not outright false, but I wanted to focus on something that has been confusing me about the Right’s talking points in opposing this legislation; namely, their claim that a government program would lead to health care “rationing” as if such “rationing” doesn’t already take place every day when private insurers refuse or deny coverage.

Fact Check asked FRC’s Tom McClusky where they got the idea that the legislation would result in denying the elderly necessary medical procedures:

We asked FRC’s McClusky about the basis for the ad’s assertion that the federal plan wouldn’t pay for the elderly man’s surgery, which was portrayed as a rationing of care. (We’re not told what kind of surgery the man wanted to have, or why it was denied, both important details.)

McClusky cited a June 24 town hall meeting on health care that was held in the East Room of the White House and broadcast on ABC. At the event, Obama responded to a woman who said her 105-year-old mother had received a pacemaker several years earlier, despite being told by some doctors that she was too old. According to McClusky, Obama answered that under a revamped health care system, “the government will look into what is best for her, whether it’s a pill or surgery or whatever.” Said McClusky, “That’s rationing.”

Fact Check points out that, in the exchange McClusky cited, President Obama actually said the opposite:

The president didn’t say that government would decide what treatments or procedures would be allowed. He said the opposite: “I don’t want bureaucracies making those decisions,” and “we want doctors and medical experts to be making decisions,” based on scientific evidence of what is likely to result.

But the really interesting exchange came when Fact Check asked McClusky why they were making this claim a central part of their ad considering that private insurers routinely deny coverage for necessary medical treatment:

We don’t know whether or not some form of rationing would eventually take place if one of the pending bills were to become law. We would note, as does Obama, that denials of coverage are routine among private health insurance companies and under Medicare in our current system, and we asked McClusky about that. Why would such decisions about care be more objectionable under a public plan, for instance, than they are when Aetna or UnitedHealthcare denies coverage? “We find it more troubling when the federal government is doing it,” he said. “It’s the 800-lb gorilla.”

So if your insurance provider refuses to cover necessary medical costs, FRC sees that perfectly acceptable, but if “the federal government is doing it” then it is an absolute outrage.  

In essence, FRC is taking a standard practice among private insurers and using it to try and scare people into opposing “government-run” health care … all in an effort to ensure that private insurers will remain free to continue to do the very thing they are warning that the government would do.