Documents obtained by the Washington Post Monday showed that lobbyists helped three state lawmakers draft op-eds this year attacking Medicare for All, a revelation Sen. Bernie Sanders highlighted as further evidence that the healthcare industry is "terrified" of the push for single-payer.
"We are taking on the big-money interests who have an army of lobbyists trying to defeat Medicare for All," tweeted Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate. "They are terrified that the American people recognize that healthcare is a human right. They're right to be terrified."
The Post's Jeff Stein reported Monday that Montana state Rep. Kathy Kelker (D), Montana state Sen. Jen Gross (D), and an aide to Ohio state Sen. Steve Huffman (R) admitted in interviews that lobbyists helped craft their recent op-eds criticizing Medicare for All. The three columns appeared in local newspapers; none of them disclosed that they were written with the assistance of lobbyists.
"This is just the latest reason we need to reform this broken system where greedy corporations determine who can get medical treatment in America."
—Wendell Potter, Business for Medicare for All
Kelker and Gross "acknowledged in interviews that editorials they published separately about the single-payer health proposal included language provided by John MacDonald, a lobbyist and consultant in [Montana] who disclosed in private emails that he worked for an unnamed client," Stein reported.
Kathleen DeLand, an Ohio-based lobbyist, assisted Huffman with his September 30 Sidney Daily News op-ed, which criticized Medicare for All as a "one-size-fits-all approach" that "does not work for healthcare."
Huffman's aide told the Post that he believes DeLand was working for the Partnership for America's Health Care Future (PAHCF), an industry front group formed last year to fight Medicare for All.
"DeLand's emails to the Ohio lawmaker's staff include the acronym for the group in the subject line: 'PAHCF op-ed - OH - Huffman. docx,'" Stein reported, citing documents provided to the Post by non-profit advocacy group Medicare for All Now.
MacDonald, who edited the Montana lawmakers' columns, would not confirm to the Post whether he was working for PAHCF.
"The emails appear to show extensive outside involvement in the Montana lawmakers' op-eds," Stein reported. "In a Microsoft Word document, MacDonald removed three paragraphs from a draft of Kelker's op-ed that pointed out that the United States 'clearly spends significantly more on healthcare per capita than other developed nations.' He also deleted a table from the lawmaker's original draft showing that the United States has higher healthcare spending per capita than France, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland."
Lobbyists for corporations that profit off keeping us sick are ghostwriting op-eds opposing #MedicareForAll.
These corporations can't be reasoned with, only defeated & destroyed: https://t.co/yrgfF7BTjE
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Wendell Potter, president of advocacy group Business for Medicare for All, said the emails "blow open what I saw firsthand and revealed as a health insurance whistleblower."
"These companies and their lobbyists will stoop to whatever it takes, no matter how grotesque, to deny people the lifesaving coverage they need," Potter, a former health insurance executive, told the Post. "This is just the latest reason we need to reform this broken system where greedy corporations determine who can get medical treatment in America."
In a series of tweets Monday, Potter called on PAHCF to "come clean about any other op-eds secretly authored by the health insurance industry to discredit Medicare for All."
"This move by the industry is built on a decades old corporate playbook used previously by Big Tobacco and the NRA," said Potter. "Placing industry-crafted talking points under the byline of trusted local leaders is a tried and true way to manipulate the public."
This should surprise no one. But it’s still wrong. And it is scary.
It’s also unethical. Public relations professionals are not supposed to misrepresent messages or their messengers to the public.
— Wendell Potter (@wendellpotter) December 2, 2019
Larry Noble, who served as general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center and the Federal Election Commission, echoed Potter's ethical concerns.
"It's disturbing," Noble said of the emails in an interview with the Post. "I think there's a certain ethical obligation to be upfront about who wrote the editorial."