Media infected with conservatives' "socialized medicine" myth

››› ››› DIANNA PARKER & CHRISTINE SCHWEN

In recent days, numerous media figures have falsely characterized President Obama's health care proposal as "socialized medicine," a "single-payer" health care system, a "single-payer government-run system," or "nationalized health care" like the British or Canadian models.

In recent days, numerous media figures have claimed or suggested that President Obama has proposed -- or that his health care plan will lead to -- "socialized medicine," a "single-payer" system, a "single-payer government-run system," or "nationalized health care" like the British or Canadian models. However, Obama has not proposed a single-payer or a nationalized health care system and has explicitly rejected the idea that the United States should adopt the British or Canadian models of providing health care. As PolitiFact.com noted in a March 4 post, "Obama's plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured" and "the plan is very different from some European-style health systems where the government owns health clinics and employs doctors."

Moreover, during a March 26 online town hall discussion, Obama said he did not support enacting a "single-payer system" for health care like those in England and Canada. When asked, "Why can we not have a universal health care system, like many European countries, where people are treated based on needs rather than financial resources," Obama replied, "I actually want a universal health care system; that is our goal." But he said a "universal health care system" does not have to be a "single-payer system" like England or Canada has, and rejected getting rid of the current employer-provided private health insurance system: "I don't think the best way to fix our health care system is to suddenly completely scrap what everybody is accustomed to and the vast majority of people already have. Rather, what I think we should do is to build on the system that we have and fill some of these gaps."

These false characterizations of Obama's health care plan echo debunked claims that conservatives made -- and the media repeatedly echoed -- during the 2008 presidential campaign. In fact, as The New York Times reported in a May 3, 2008, article, "Senator John McCain has been repeatedly suggesting that his Democratic rivals [Obama and then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton] are proposing a single-payer, or even a nationalized health care system along the lines of those in countries like Canada and Britain" but "[t]he suggestion is incorrect." As Media Matters for America has documented, as far back as the 1930s, conservatives have attempted to smear progressive national health care reform proposals by calling them "socialized medicine" or a step toward that inevitable result.

There are numerous examples in the last week alone of media repeating or failing to challenge the characterization of Obama's health care proposal as socialized medicine:

  • In his April 30 Wall Street Journal column, Fox News contributor Karl Rove wrote that, in 2008, the Obama campaign "ran ads attacking 'government-run health care' as 'extreme.' Now Mr. Obama is asking, as he did at a townhall meeting last month, 'Why not do a universal health care system like the European countries?' "
  • On the April 29 edition of his Fox News program, Glenn Beck said, "Are we on the road to universal health care? If so, what dangers could we face as other countries with universal health care, like Canada, are facing now?" Beck then said he didn't want the Canadian health care system, and that "I kind of like ours," and asked president and chief executive officer of the Pacific Research Institute Sally Pipes to "[t]ell [him] about Canada's health system." Pipes then said, "Where are we going to go as patients and where are the best doctors in the world going to go if Obama's health care plan comes through? We have universal coverage; we don't have universal access. We will have Medicare for all, single-payer government-run system. It's not the American way, and it has to be slowed down."
  • On the April 29 edition of Fox News' Special Report, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer asserted that Obama is pushing "a radical domestic agenda which involves, as he puts it every time, a holy trinity of health care reform, by which he means nationalizing health care. ... And this is all in the service of leveling the differences between rich and poor and leveling the differences between classes."
  • During the April 29 edition of Fox News' Your World, host Neil Cavuto asked Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) about what Republicans might do before the 2010 midterm elections to halt Democratic initiatives. In response, DeMint asserted: " A lot of Democrats are not going to get a lot of support back home for socialized medicine. So I think if people stand up and speak out, we have a chance of stopping a lot of this nonsense that they're talking about now, and maybe it will give us a shot in 2010 to reorganize this Congress and to put back some checks and balances for President Obama." Cavuto did not challenge DeMint's suggestion that Obama has proposed "socialized medicine."
  • In an April 29 post to The Fox Forum, FoxNews.com financial columnist Liz Peek wrote: "Team Obama wants to set up government-managed health insurance programs which will, in theory, compete with private insurers. The likelihood is that the public programs will ultimately drive the private players out of the business, as has been the case in student lending, leading to rising costs and ultimately to rationing of health care spending. Many people fear that it is but a short hop from nationalized health insurance to nationalized health care -- a truly horrifying prospect for anyone who has studied the disaster of English socialized medicine. Do you want bureaucrats deciding whether you should get that MRI? Would you like to wait six months for a breast exam? If you think HMOs are a pain, think airport security screeners, or motor vehicle clerks. That should make you take your vitamins!"
  • On the April 28 edition of Fox News Radio's Brian & The Judge, co-host Andrew Napolitano suggested that "what may be coming" under Obama's proposed health care plan is similar to the systems used in Canada and the United Kingdom: "You want a situation like we have in Canada, where you have to wait 16 months to have nonelective surgery? Do you want a situation like they have in Great Britain, where only the rich can go to private clinics and everybody else from the upper-middle class -- from the upper-middle class on down has bad teeth and poor health and has to get the permission of a bureaucrat before they can see a doctor? That is what may be coming without a meaningful debate, without a meaningful alternative, without input from you." He later added, "Do you think that it's a coincidence that the government would be enacting this takeover of health care in the same week that we have fears of an epidemic and a pandemic about swine flu? Remember how fear -- remember how the government uses fear to get people to give up their freedom."
  • On the April 27 edition of Special Report, chief political correspondent Carl Cameron falsely suggested that Obama has proposed a nationalized health care system similar to those of the U.K. and Canada when he asserted: "The battle is already one of this year's most polarizing and partisan. Conservatives for Patients' Rights launched a new ad with British and Canadian doctors warning Americans about the perils of nationalized health care."
  • In an April 25 Wall Street Journal article, editorial board member Brian Carney reported that "given the balance of power in Washington, [Sen. Judd] Gregg [R-NH] gives the Democrats good chances of success in nationalizing our health-insurance market. 'I think the odds are pretty good that it's going to happen -- that you'll have a major health-care reform bill pass.' " Carney also quoted Gregg asserting: "There's no question ... that this is a debate about rationing to a large degree. All your single-payer systems are rationing systems. It's also a debate about technology and innovation. Because you will not have capital pursuing technology, innovation and science if it's health-care related, because the return on capital won't be there. And these things are so expensive, especially on the pharmaceutical side and the biologic side, that you'll dramatically slow improvements in the quality of health care through science with a single-payer plan."
  • During the April 24 edition of Special Report, White House correspondent Wendell Goler cropped a comment by Obama and took it out of context -- effectively reversing the statement's meaning -- to falsely suggest that Obama supports creating a health care system "like the European countries." Goler claimed that Obama "doesn't want to do it halfway" on health care and then aired a clip from the March 26 online town hall event of Obama saying, "If you're going to fix it, why not do a universal health care system like the European countries?" Following the clip, Goler reported: "His critics worry universal health care would mean government-run health care."
  • In a column printed in the April 24 edition of The Washington Post, Krauthammer asserted that "[i]n the service of his ultimate mission -- the leveling of social inequalities -- President Obama offers a tripartite social democratic agenda: nationalized health care, federalized education (ultimately guaranteed through college) and a cash-cow carbon tax (or its equivalent) to subsidize the other two."

From the April 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:

CAVUTO: Does that mean, though, that you have to wait until 2010? Because assuming Al Franken steps in as that 60th filibuster-busting Democrat, you guys are just, you know, gonna be looking to order fries, right? I mean, what are you going to do?

DeMINT: Well, what we have going for us, Neil, is what you and Dick Armey were just talking about. Americans are pushing back. They're standing up. They're speaking out as they haven't done in years. And there are some Democrats who could get the message, who understand that electricity tax is going to hurt their constituents. They could stop that.

A lot of Democrats are not going to get a lot of support back home for socialized medicine. So I think if people stand up and speak out, we have a chance of stopping a lot of this nonsense that they're talking about now, and maybe it will give us a shot in 2010 to reorganize this Congress and to put back some checks and balances for President Obama.

CAVUTO: So this is like your Reagan moment.

From the April 29 edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

BECK: Now, did you know that we had a health emergency? Yeah, it's a health crisis. Are we on the road to universal health care? If so, what dangers could we face as other countries with universal health care, like Canada, are facing now?

Sally Pipes, president and CEO of Pacific Research Institute, and author of The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care: A Citizen's Guide. Help me out on -- because everybody says that, gosh, Canada, they've got -- I mean, wouldn't you love to have the Canadian health service up there? No, not really. I kind of like ours. Tell me about Canada's health system.

PIPES: Well, Glenn, you know, I am from Canada. I became an American two years ago, but I grew up under a single-payer, government is the only provider of healthcare. And few people in America know that they have long waiting lists for care. In Canada today, the average Canadian waits 17.3 weeks, over four months, from seeing a primary-care doc to getting treatment by a specialist. They have rationed care and lack of access to the latest technology. So, you know, if that's what we want in America, then people should support Governor -- President Obama's public plan, which will be part of an insurance -- national insurance exchange.

[...]

PIPES: And I like to say, you know, Canadians have an escape valve, they just hop over the border --

BECK: Yeah, it's true.

PIPES: -- and pay to get their MRI done timely. Where are we going to go as patients and where are the best doctors in the world going to go if Obama's health care plan comes through? We have universal coverage; we don't have universal access. We will have a Medicare for all, single-payer government-run system. It's not the American way, and it has to be slowed down.

BECK: OK.

PIPES: People need to know in America this is not what they will want if they want good health care.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform
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