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TV ads called ‘very misleading’

By Carol Gentry
5/7/2009 Health News Florida
Controversial Floridian Richard L. Scott has been popping up on cable-news ads that claim President Obama wants to nationalize and ration health care. Now an independent fact-checking organization has labeled the ads “very misleading.”

Scott, a multimillionaire investor in Naples and board member of Associated Industries of Florida, is chairman of Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a nonprofit group that defends four “principles of patients’ rights” -- choice, competition, accountability and responsibility – according to its Web site. It opposes “big government.”

The group that is taking him on is Factcheck.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit voter-assistance project at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at University of Pennsylvania. It provides documentation for its research, complete with links and footnotes, and won a national award in 2008 for its even-handed treatment of the candidates’ claims. Common Sense Media, a nonprofit site for parents, calls Factcheck.org “a breath of fresh air.”

The ad in question is “Not So Innocent,” a one-minute commercial launched April 27 with a reported $1-million ad buy on CNN and other TV outlets. The ad, which can be seen at either the Patients' Rights or Factcheck sites, strongly implies that President Obama and Congress are trying to set up a British- or Canadian-style government-run, single-payer health system. 

Factcheck says a single-payer plan such as Britain’s or Canada’s has been specifically rejected by both Obama and most Democratic Congressional leaders and notes that single-payer advocates have recently protested being shut out of the debate. 

In its analysis, Factcheck notes that some voters may be confused by Obama’s recommendation of a public plan that would operate alongside the private ones as a voluntary choice. This is not the same as a government-run, single-payer system, Factcheck.org says. “Nobody would be forced to drop his or her current insurance, and private plans would exist as they do now,” it explains.

On the screen, Scott also warns of “an innocent-sounding board, the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research. It’s not so innocent. It’s the first step in government control over your health care choices. This federal council is modeled after the national board that controls Britain’s health system.”

The board was created as part of the federal stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Factcheck says federal funding for comparative-effectiveness research dates back to the 1970s but it has never been coordinated, which is the point of the research council. Such research looks at which medical treatments, including drugs, are most effective for a given illness. Sometimes this type of research includes cost-benefit analysis.

Scott’s opinion that the board will lead to “government control” over health care has no basis in the legislation, Factcheck says. It “specifically says the council won’t issue any kind of health care requirements.”

Scott’s ad also shows video of physicians from Canada and Britain disparaging their own countries’ long waits for certain services, as part of the ad’s implication that Obama wants something similar. Factcheck talked to the Canadian surgeon and quoted him as saying he actually thinks the current U.S. system is worse than Canada’s.

Conservatives for Patients' Rights posted a response to the FactCheck analysis last week and demanded a retraction. FactCheck rejected that as “nonsense” and invited voters to look at the evidence and judge for themselves. 

The New York Times reported in April that the public relations firm CRC that is manaaging the ad campaign is the same one known for its work with the much-criticized Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which attacked Sen. John Kerry's war record during the 2004 Presidential campaign. The Times reported that Scott gave $5 million to fund the Patients' Rights group.

A bio of Scott on the Patients' Rights site correctly notes that he built Columbia/HCA hospital chain into one of the most successful companies in the world. It omits his ouster by his own board in 1997 when the company was accused of overbilling state and federal health programs. The company eventually pleaded guilty and paid $1.7 billion to settle the charges. 

Since he settled in Naples, Scott founded the Solantic Corp., a chain of walk-in clinics that recently won a contract with Wal-Mart.

--Carol Gentry, Editor, can be reached at 727-410-3266 or by e-mail.