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Mccain Campaign Disavows Health Adviser (updated)

The saga of John McCain and his official views on health care just keeps getting more interesting.

As you may recall, the Dallas Morning News recently quoted John Goodman suggesting that the problems of the uninsured were wildly exaggerated--since, among other things, everybody can always get into an emergency room.

Goodman runs a conservative policy think-tank and has been making these sorts of arguments for a long time. But it was newsworthy since, according to the Morning News story, he was also an adviser to the McCain campaign. When word about his statement circulated this morning, several journalists wrote about it.  I did, too, right here on the Plank.

I had also e-mailed the McCain campaign for comment, asking whether they stood by Goodman’s word. A McCain spokesman, Taylor Griffin, responded by telling me “John Goodman is not an advisor to this campaign.” A very quick search on Google and Lexis-Nexis turned up no other independent mentions of Goodman as an advisor, so I edited that reference out of my item and apologized.

But now it looks like the original story was correct. As soon as I heard from the McCain campaign, I contacted both Goodman and the Morning News reporter, Jason Roberson. Goodman has not gotten back to me yet--in fairness, it’s only been a little while--but Roberson did. I’ll reprint his email to me in full:

From: "Roberson, Jason"
Date: August 28, 2008 2:58:12 PM EDT
To: "Jonathan Cohn"
Subject: FW: Wall Street Journal Op Ed

Jonathan — We stand behind our story. John Goodman, president of the National Center for Public Policy Analysis, says he helped craft Sen. John McCain’s health care policy. In addition, below is a link to the Wall Street Journal op-ed that Mr. Goodman sent me. It lists Mr. Goodman as an “unpaid adviser” to Sen. John McCain. As you can see from the e-mail, there was no attempt to clarify his title.

Jason Roberson
Business Reporter
Dallas Morning News

From: John Goodman
Sent: Wednesday, July 30, 2008 3:00 PM
To: Ronda McCullough
Subject: Wall Street Journal Op Ed
Please see my op ed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal.   It’s the first time details of McCain’s Health Plan have been spelled out.
John Goodman
National Center for Policy Analysis

By the way, Roberson is correct about the Journal op-ed. It appeared on July 30, 2008, under the title “McCain Is the Radical on Health Reform.” And it very plainly identifies Goodman as “an unpaid adviser to the McCain campaign.” (The Journal is not on Lexis-Nexis.)

I have since asked the McCain campaign for clarification and will update this item when I get it. 

Just to reiterate what I wrote earlier, this is not a crank adviser going off-message. Whatever Goodman’s role in the McCain campaign, past or present, his arguments about health care--specifically, that people have too much health care coverage--is a bedrock principle of the McCain health care plan, which offers all sorts of incentives for people to choose less generous health insurance.

Goodman's sin here is to speak honestly about what McCain's health care plan would do--something, apparently, the campaign itself would rather avoid.

Update: Griffin, the McCain campaign's spokesman, just got back to me. Here's what he wrote:

Mr. Goodman volunteered his advice to the campaign in the past. However, his philosophy on health care--and especially on the urgency of the problems faced by 45 million uninsured American’s--are clearly out of step with John McCain. Earlier this summer the campaign informed Mr. Goodman that his advice was not required and requested that he not identify himself as being associated with the campaign in any way, including as a volunteer. John McCain could not disagree more strongly with Mr. Goodman.  John McCain believes that addressing the problem of the nation’s uninsured is one of our most pressing national priorities. That’s why the McCain health plan will, for the first time, bring health coverage within reach of every American.

Absent other information, I am willing to take the campaign at its word when it comes to Goodman's involvement. And, certainly, I appreciate the sentiments about the uninsured. On the other hand, what I said above still stands: The McCain health plan, as discussed previously, is perfectly consistent with Goodman's statements, which have represent mainstream conservative thinking on health care these days.

Remember, the McCain campaign would offer tax incentives that favor bare-bones coverage; it would also gut state regulations that mandate all insurers cover certain benefits. Most important, perhaps, it's likely that the McCain health plan would lead many people with employer-sponsored insurance to give up or lose that coverage. While many people would also get new coverage on their own, through the individual market, the benefits would be skimpier--and they would be available only to relatively healthy people, since insurers screen for pre-existing medical conditions when they sell policies individually. 

--Jonathan Cohn