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The San Francisco Chronicle

Swift-Boating Healthcare: Facts Are First Casualty in Health Care Debate

Joe Garofoli

relying on TV advertising or partisan sources for information about
health care legislation in Congress have heard that it will "ration"
care to the nation's oldest citizens and hike premiums "95 percent.

that Republican voters "might be discriminated against for medical
treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care rationing system."
President Obama, meanwhile, has said don't worry, the plan "will be
paid for."

Such statements, made in what analysts say is likely to be one of
the most expensive issue-oriented campaigns ever, are misleading - if
not flat-out wrong.

More than $67 million has been spent on TV advertising on the health
care debate so far this year, according to Campaign Media Analysis
Group, which analyzes TV political advertising, and more misinformation
and nastiness is expected when Congress returns next week.

"Definitely, the debate is going to ratchet up," said Keith Appell,
a spokesman for the group Conservatives for Patients' Rights, which
plans to spend $20 million against the Democrats' health care plans.

Appell works at the public relations agency that represented Swift
Boat Veterans for Truth, a group of Navy veterans whose attacks on the
war record of 2004 Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry,
D-Mass., helped doom his campaign.

Big money

While twice as much money has been spent on ads supporting the
health care reform plans this year, anti-reform groups "have spent only
slightly less than the pro groups" in the past month, said Evan Tracey,
chief operating officer of Campaign Media Analysis Group.

"This is one of those issues where neither side will be underfunded," he said.

Through June 30 of this year, the health care industry - which
includes doctors, nurses, HMOs and other groups - had spent more than
$263 million to lobby Congress, which is on track to surpass the $484
million it spent in all of 2008, according to the Center for Responsive
Politics, a nonpartisan organization that charts the influence of money
on politics.

"Somebody sitting at home is not able to have their voice heard at
any level with the millions of dollars flowing into this debate," said
Dave Levinthal, a spokesman for the Center for Responsive Politics.

Changing tone

In recent months, the tone of the advertising has changed from
soft-focus and issue-oriented to more direct and political. And

"If there continues to be a debate over a public option, then the
rhetoric is going to get even sharper," Tracey said. "In the fall,
you'll see even more targeting of individual members (of Congress) who
might be seen as on the fence."

In the contest for influence, opponents of the health care plans
have an easier task, Tracey said. "They just have to install doubt in
the viewer's mind," he said.

This month, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele
sent the "2009 Future of American Health Survey" to Republican voters
to gauge their attitudes on health care issues.

Question No. 4 read: "It has been suggested that the government
could use voter registration to determine a person's political
affiliation, prompting fears that GOP voters might be discriminated
against for medical treatment in a Democrat-imposed health care
rationing system. Does this possibility concern you?"

When asked who specifically has "suggested" that Republican voters
could be "discriminated against," RNC spokeswoman Katie Wright said
"the question was inartfully worded" but did not say who suggested it.

The American Medical Association said the House bill "does not
ration medical care or discriminate based on political affiliation."

Rowdy meetings

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who as chair of the House Education
and Labor Committee is one of the architects of the House version of
the health care bill, said some of the misleading advertising
contributed to rowdy town hall meetings this month.

"So much of it has been misleading and designed to disrupt the
debate," Miller told The Chronicle. "The efforts of town hall were so
you couldn't convey to the public what the bill actually did."

As for how much such efforts stalled the conversation, Miller said: "We shall see."

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