Lie of the year: “Gummint takeover of health care”

A Tweet from the WashPost brings to my attention this item:

PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: ‘A government takeover of health care’

By Bill AdairAngie Drobnic Holan
Published on Thursday, December 16th, 2010 at 11:30 p.m.

In the spring of 2009, a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama’s ambitious plan to overhaul America’s health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a “government takeover.”

“Takeovers are like coups,” Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. “They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.”

The line stuck. By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the “public option” concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan.

But as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn’t let facts get in the way of a great punchline. And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry.

PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen “government takeover of health care” as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections….

And indeed, it’s tough to think of a bigger lie recently propagated than the idea of the lame, tepid, timid health care bill that Dems crammed through over Repubs’ kicking and screaming was anything in the same universe as a government takeover of anything.

If only it were. That is, if only it were a takeover, not of “health care,” but of the mechanism for paying for it. A few minutes ago on the radio, I heard ol’ Henry McMaster rumbling in that distinctive old-Columbia drawl of his about that mean awful nasty mandate, and again found myself wondering how he or anyone can even begin to imagine that we could address health care expense in any meaningful way without a mandate of some kind. Not THIS mandate, but a real one — a mandate for all of us to be in the same system, the same risk pool. Nothing else would really work.

I experienced actual gummint-run health care when I was a kid, because my Dad was in the Navy. Navy doctors, Navy hospitals. And let me tell you something: It was great. My Dad devoted his career to his country, frequently (at sea, and in the Rung Sat Special Zone of Vietnam with the river patrol boats) putting his life on the line. And in return, my family’s health care was taken care of. Made all the sense in the world to me. Way I see it, we should all pay into the system one way or another — for most of us, through taxes or premiums or whatever you choose to call them — and then everybody’s in the pool and we achieve maximum economies of scale.

But essentially, even that wouldn’t be a gummint-run health-care system, but a government-run (actually, I don’t care who runs it, as long as we’re all in it and nobody’s adding cost by building profit into the transaction, and the way you usually accomplish that is with a public approach) medical insurance program.

But we never even considered THAT. No one dared, from the beginning of the debate, breathe the two words that should have been nonnegotiable — “single payer.” Which is idiotic. No, we started with a premise far short of that, and negotiated farther and farther away from it until we ended up with something that bore no resemblance to anything even within that universe.

And still, people like Joe Wilson went around saying “government takeover of health care” as if the words coming out of their mouths bore some relationship to reality.

Talk about a big lie. Yeah, you lie, Joe. Whether you understand that you’re doing that or not. Even if you believe it, which you most likely do.

But I find myself wondering — when he said it, did anyone actually believe it? I mean, besides Joe? I find that hard to fathom, if anyone did…

31 thoughts on “Lie of the year: “Gummint takeover of health care”

  1. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Yeah–they don’t like the mandate to buy in, and they say it’s bad because it requires you to patronize the private sector–so I say, “Let’s go 100% public!”

    Does Henry get lifetime healthcare along with a sweetheart pension deal like legislators do?

    Or is he old enough for that “private enterprise” marvel Medicare?

  2. bud

    And indeed, it’s tough to think of a bigger lie recently propagated ….

    How about: “We know where the weapons of mass destruction are, they are somewhere north, south, east and west of Baghdad” as uttered by our “esteemed” secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

  3. Mark Stewart

    Yep, Kathryn, everytime I hear someone absolutely attack the healthcare bill (“OBAMACARE”) I have come to realize that they.are from one of two camps: they already have a subsidized healthcare plan that they can rely on to continue to cover them, or they are racist.

    It’s not any fun to pay individually for health insurance. It’s even less fun when everyone in the family has a different plan because of all the nonsensical quirks in the current system.

    Actually, I would argue that the current system is the biggest impedimend to entrepreneurialism and job growth. Today, people are forced to make “irrational” choices to protect whatever health coverage that they do have. In fact, it’s kind of the mirror image of what rent controls and reassess at sale property tax structures do to stiffle economic vitality. Forcing people to stagnate and avoid innovation is terrible public policy.

  4. Doug Ross


    Medicare is a marvel in that it allows the government to pay 30% of true costs AND has hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud built into it because there is no profit motive to contain costs.

    If “single payer” is ever implemented (and I don’t think there is ever a chance that it will be thankfully), we will end up with two healthcare systems in America. The “free” one and the “good” one.

  5. Brad

    Except, Bud, that it wasn’t a lie. He was just wrong. I hate to stick up for Donald Rumsfeld, but that’s what happened. There’s a difference.

    Back to the subject:
    Mark, THANK YOU!

    Yes! The very biggest reason to eliminate this insanity is that it is a HUGE drag on innovation and economic freedom in this country — people being tied to this insane maze of employer-provided health plans.

    I had a conversation with Doug the last couple of days in which he wondered why I didn’t leave the newspaper earlier, and Doug hasn’t understood me yet. He probably would have understood me even less had I added a good reason that didn’t occur to me: The insane maze of private-sector bureaucracy (tangled up with some public subsidies of Cobra during one part of the saga) I’ve gone through over the last two years in order to have a basic modicum of health care that comes anywhere close to meeting my and my family’s needs would be enough to make any rational human being say, “I’m keeping my job FOREVER” rather than go through that.

    But of course Doug wouldn’t get it because his health coverage is perfect, always has been and always will be. Which kind of makes me think he never uses it.

    I was explaining to my allergist today that I just finally got my shipment of ONE of two drugs I have to take to keep breathing (my asthma is totally under control as long as I keep taking them) from India the other day ($74 instead of $325 for a three-month supply), but that I’m still waiting for my shipment of the OTHER one, from Turkey ($240 instead of $360).

    I used to go down the street to my friendly neighborhood pharmacist. Now, it’s like the French Connection.

  6. jfx

    Personally I think the liberals have been out of touch on how to effectively market the public option as a reasonable (and ultimately necessary) proposal since well before Luntz’s memo. Certain phrases like “health care” and “single payer” are just toxic. The libs lost the ad game. Perhaps they could’ve got more traction with branding like “national health service”. When we hear the words “health care”, the majority of us who have it tend to think of it as a fixed entity in our present lives, and we may be wary of having that sure thing messed with. Therefore it’s easy for opposition to play the fear card with respect to “your” health care. Perhaps differentiating the public option as a “service” would help offload some of the baggage that comes with the old worn-out terminology. Besides, whenever liberals mount up a serious “health care” effort, the branding gets bastardized with the head lib’s name + “-care”, and then flogged in a derogatory fashion: Obamacare, Hillarycare…even Romneycare (from back when Romney was a liberal, before his lobotomy). Every time liberals say “health care”, they keep stepping on that rake in the cornfield. But after decades of rhetorical rigidity in the fight for “health care”, they don’t even realize they are ceding the semantic battleground to the Right.

    I could see a very effective, upbeat, positive marketing campaign promoting the advent of a national health service. The vast majority of Canadians love their national health service. Don’t Americans deserve to have a national health service that we love, too? Are we gonna let Canada beat us? Boom, there’s your pitch.

  7. Burl Burlingame

    Calling it “ObamaCare” was supposed to be a negative thing. Now he’ll get all the credit.

    The winger Republicans like to call it a “government take-over of health care.” Trouble is, with such wacky hyperbole, that their own efforts to scuttle it are being called a “Republican effort to destroy health care.”

  8. bud

    Doug you are kidding when you attack Medicare because it “has no profit motive to contain cost” aren’t you? That profit motive that you are somehow mezmarized by is what costs us so dearly with the current system. In order to increase profits the healthcare providers use every means possible to deny payment. It is really a warped system that we have now and it is costing Americans their lives. The crazy system we have, ESPECIALLY the diabolical “for profit” aspect of it explains why Americans have shorter life expectancies that any developed nation on earth.

  9. Doug Ross


    “Which kind of makes me think he (Doug) never uses it.”

    And you’d kind of be wrong. I’ve got a wife and three kids and have been on the same plan for the past ten years through United Healthcare. So have more than 20,000 of my co-workers.

    We’ve had plenty of doctor’s visits, MRI’s, surgeries. We probably have a half dozen ongoing prescriptions for the past several years. I’ve never had a single issue. And I’ve never heard any of my co-workers complain about their dealings with UnitedHealthcare. Never. In 15 years. My costs and co-pays have gone up over the years. I would expect that as the system has to support Medicare and Medicaid recipients who don’t pay their fair share. It also has likely gone up due to the increased defensive medicine practices that occur because of greedy lawyers and malpractice suits. And the cost of drugs has gone up because the government has been showered with cash from lobbyists to protect their business.

    Just because your insurance sucked doesn’t mean I should have to have downgrade mine (nor should the MILLIONS of other people who are happy with what they have). You worked for a company that was cheap and screwed its employees. That was your choice.

  10. Ralph Hightower

    Let’s not forget the Death Panels that @CongJoeWilson & @JimDeMint were saying would happen!

  11. Herb Brasher

    Mark, it is even less fun not to be able to get insurance because one has lived abroad for decades, and nobody will take you.

    We got run over by a freight train on that one. Finally had to go to a Christian sharing thing that I won’t run down because they are sincere people. Still, it’s pretty frustrating because pre-existing conditions aren’t covered. The ultra-capitalist Mr. Potter controls the health care industry, and it ain’t ever going to be a wonderful life for those of us who have to try and get some kind of individual coverage, like Kathleen wrote.

    And even if you do get it, you have to practically bludgeon the company to get them to pay a bill. I just can’t figure this out. And why on earth do people object to having to pay into the system–insurance doesn’t work unless everybody pays into it. You can’t wait until you get sick to buy it.

    Makes me wish I had never left Germany. Well, I wish that a lot.

  12. Karen McLeod

    @Burl. If we could only get that message out there, and repeat it again and again. If we could only get massive coverage showing just how big a lie the far right is telling, people might wake up to what’s happening in that arena.

  13. William Tucker

    Go to a 100% government sponsored health care system and see how much easier it will be for students to get in to medical school. Reason being is that people will not go into the health care industry because it’ll take decades or longer to just pay off student loans much less earn a living. Doctors I know now are not seeing Medicare/Medicaid patients because Medicare/Medicaid is paying less than the doctor’s costs to provide a procedure.

  14. Brad

    Doug, one of the many insurance providers I’ve been with in the past decade was United Healthcare. And I’m sorry, but if you’ve “never had a single issue,” then I guess insurance elves have come into your house and taken care of them at night when you were sleeping. And I say that not to criticize that particular company. It’s just another part of a really lousy system for paying for health care.

    But let’s suppose that that Doug Ross has absolutely perfect health coverage: The premiums and co-pays are reasonable, and you’re able to get all the care you need without having to sell your house or anything, and you’ve never even spent an hour on the phone going through layer after layer of private-sector, profit-driven bureaucracy that exists to persuade you to give up before you finally get the claim that you’re paying for approved. Let’s assume all of that is absolutely true.

    Then the first thing we all say is, congratulations, Doug. Because you and your family have achieved a sort of medical insurance nirvana that is an alien world to the rest of us living in the U.S. of A.

    Then the next thing I say is, where do I go to sign up for it? I mean, really — if your insurance being perfect is your answer to the calls of the rest of us having coverage that is light years away from that (or of course, no coverage at all), then what we’re saying is that we can all run right out and get on your plan. Right? I mean, otherwise YOUR plan being perfect in no way helps address the problem for the other 300 million people in the country.

    Except we can’t do that, can we? I can’t run out and sign up for your plan, can I?

    And that’s the problem. Most of us cannot get that kind of coverage, no matter how smart or good-looking or hard-working we are, even if we pay every dime we can scrape up and hold our breath until we turn blue.

    And THAT is the problem. It’s total pot luck. You get health coverage you’re happy with. Millions of others get screwed.

    Fixing THAT is the aim of any health care reform worthy of the name.

  15. William Tucker

    @bud – Okay now we know of a second thing that you hate… capitalism. The US Military and Capitalism, anything else?

    Who pays for research, who pays for medical schooling or testing? Do you want medications being handed out that do things like cause severe birth defects like we saw back in the 60’s?

    Have you considered packing your bags and heading to Canada or France?

  16. Doug Ross


    As I said, everyone in my company has access to the same insurance. You keep trying to make it out like my experience is unique. It is not. Millions of people have insurance they are happy with – do you seriously think Blue Cross and UnitedHealthcare and Aetna could last with millions of unsatisfied customers?

    The problem is that you view the insurance world through the prism of your own experience and filter out any information that doesn’t support your opinion.

  17. Doug Ross

    And any time you’d like to see exactly what the insurance plans look like for my company, let me know. I’ll provide them. They are similar to what hundreds of other companies provide to millions of employees.

    And as a two income family, I also have seen the plans available to my wife through the state plan. Seems pretty good to me and I don’t hear a lot of people complaining about it.

    How about this – have your buddy Vince Sheheen submit a bill that allows any resident or business in South Carolina to buy into the state health plan at the same rates as state employees pay. Oh, but you want it to be “free”. That’s a little tougher.

  18. Brad

    First of all — WHEN DID YOU EVER GET THE IDEA I WANTED IT TO BE FREE? Never, ever, have I indicated anything of the kind, but exactly the opposite. I want, as you say, to be able to buy into a plan that works. I want everyone to. I don’t want there to be any exceptions.

    Because the best, most efficient, plan with the most widely spread risk is on that includes everyone in the country.

    Your facetious answer betrays your prejudice on this matter. You believe anyone who wants the same advantages you have is some sort of undeserving freeloader. You buy into that fantasy.

    And gee, I don’t know why I don’t ask my buddy “Vince” Sheheen to wave a magic wand to make this happen. Maybe because he can’t. Or maybe because it’s not just about me, or even about South Carolina. I firmly believe we need a national solution on this. Maybe you could talk to your buddy Ron Paul. Like he would give a flying flip.

    Seriously, though, what you suggest would be a start.

    A better approach would be for all of us to buy into the same plan that Congress gets. I don’t know why we can’t seem to have a productive conversation in this country about doing THAT.

  19. bud

    Sorry Doug but you are just living in some kind of fantasy world if you believe private health insurance works well. Like Brad I’ve had private insurance, for me it’s with the state. It’s completely impossible to understand what and why they pay for what they do. My family does manage to benefit from it but trying to understand it is beyond human comprehension. To blame medicare for the diabolical health care insurance providers is a cop-out.

    Of course the insured are not the real problem with the current system. Brad probably gets what he needs in spite of the red tape. But millions are simply not insured at all. Many because the damn insurance companies have been allowed to deny coverage. And it’s because of that profit motive that you worship so.

  20. Doug Ross


    If your plan requires people to pay more for health care based on their income, it’s a non-starter. That’s what I mean by “free” – some people will not pay a dime and have access to the same care as people who pay far more.

    This is why Medicare is such a joke. Watch the television commercials where they offer diabetes testing equipment or scooters “for free” if you have Medicare.

    Tell me exactly how you will pay for your “single payer” system. That should be the starting point for any discussion. If it’s a percentage of my income, forget it. Health care should not be based on a variable cost. I already pay more into Medicare that 80% of the people in the country.

    The way you feel about taxes is how I feel about insurance.


    Just because you and Brad have difficulty understanding something doesn’t mean everybody does. My company has tens of thousands of
    employees. We get a website that explains all the details. We have a website that explains all the payments.

    Ask around. Then everytime someone tells you their insurance is fine, stick your fingers in your ears and say, “I can’t hear you”.

    Here’s a poll from the Washington Post:

    “It’s a huge barrier,” said Robert J. Blendon, a professor of health-care policy and political analysis at Harvard University. He cited a Washington Post-ABC News poll of 1,001 adults in June that found that 83 percent were either “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with the care they receive and 81 percent felt the same way about their insurance. “These people have something to lose. If they think reform is going to actually make it worse for them, they get really scared.”

    So you and Brad are part of the 20% who aren’t satisfied with your insurance. That’s fine. Just don’t try and overhaul the system for the 80% of us who are.

    It’s unbelievable to me that you and Brad can ignore those numbers and pretend that your views represent anything close to a majority of people.

  21. bud

    Doug, here’s a quote from the same Washington Post article you cited:

    “A Kaiser poll conducted this month, for example, found that 56 percent of Americans think health-care reform is particularly important, given the state of the economy, and most say the country will be better off if reform happens.”

    Seems like most folks wanted a change back in 2009. People understand the needs of those who are uninsured and see their premiums spiraling upward, even if they are generally satisfied with their own situation. Given the economic strife that continues since that article was written it’s a sure bet many of those who were satisfied are now out of work and insurance coverage.

  22. Brad

    “Just don’t try and overhaul the system for the 80% of us who are.”

    Sorry, Doug, ol’ buddy. Either everybody’s in, or there’s no point whatsoever.

    Oh, and when did I pretend that my views represent a majority? If everyone had the same thoughts, what would be the point in my taking time to express them?

    Basically, I started writing about this issue when I had a fundamental insight: That insurance was the screwed up for those of us who had it, not just for the uninsured. If as you say vast numbers of people are fat and happy with their current arrangement, then vast numbers of people are deluded, and are failing to think critically.

    And you know why I think that is? It’s not because what they have is so great. It’s because it’s what they have, and they fear the unknown.

    Most people’s insurance is a big, complicated thing that they get through work, and which they cling to because the alternative is to be cast into the cold. Their feelings about it are all tied up in their feelings about their jobs. They are TERRIFIED to identify in any way with people who are out of work or don’t have insurance — people who, of course, must DESERVE their situation. Because you can’t just lose your job or insurance through no fault of your own — can you? I mean, that would be unAmerican, right? Right?

    There are all kinds of complexes and psychological contradictions at work here, and those who oppose reform exploit them to maintain the status quo.

  23. Mark Stewart

    Doug works for a company with “ten’s of thousands of employees” and his wife works for the state. ‘Nough said.

    Here’s the problem, the poor, the elderly, those who work for the government – and military – employees of Russell2000 and larger companies, and those who work in most healthcare fields, plus retirees of these employment groups, are all covered with subsidized, robust plans today. Its the self-employed, most professionals, most small business owners – plus young adults of every stripe – are the ones who really get left out of the current “system”.

    That’s the problem – the part of this economy that drives growth is uncovered by an inclusive system. Does that make any sense?

    But Doug is right, 80% of the population is covered under a subsidized plan. So long as they continue to focus on benefits before productivity. Or retire and then spend their time fighting a reargard action to maintain what’s “theirs”.

    Yes, reform must be made. I don’t know what is best, but what exists is not it. What we have now is actually the worst sort of economic malaise.

  24. William Tucker

    I’m interested in hearing how the insurance benefits for a large company like Knight Ridder are different than those of other larger companies. I’m willing it bet that it’s not all that different. Blue Cross is Blue Cross.

  25. Herb Brasher

    Thanks, Tom, I loved that book. A good American perspective and some good insight. Better, from my perspective, in some ways, that Bethge, though one cannot ignore Bethge; he was too close to Bonhoeffer to ignore what he has to say.

  26. Brad

    I have the Bonhoeffer book — I asked for and received it for my birthday in October. But I also got the Tony Blair book at the same time, and have just started on it. I look forward to reading the Bonhoeffer one before too much longer.

    I also got The Last Stand (as in Custer’s) at the same time, as well as “Pacific”-related books by Robert Leckie and Eugene Sledge on the same birthday (I have a big family, hence lots of presents). I read Leckie and Sledge first. Then I indulged myself in some Aubrey-Maturin before moving on to Tony.

    At the rate I’m going, I won’t finish Tony before I get to London. What if I run into him, and he asks how it was? I’ll feel foolish…

    But it’s very good so far…

  27. Doug Ross

    So, as I said, have our Legislature pass a bill that allows any company or individual to buy into the state plan. Or at a national level, allow companies to buy into the same plan Congress has.

    Why is that so hard to do?

    All I can go buy is my experience. I rarely hear people talk about issues with insurance, I never hear people complain within my company about our options or the cost.

    We’re not afraid of losing our insurance, we are concerned that people like Brad want to change ours into something that is either a) worse or b) costs more. Can you guarantee the millions of people who are happy with their insurance that your system will be either better or a better value? If you can’t, it’s not going to happen.

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