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More Right-wing Lies, With Beer Chaser

Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing group last seen sponsoring Joe the Plumber's speaking tour against card-check legislation, is getting into the health care debate. And it's making arguments with all of the nuance and rigor you'd expect.

The vehicle for these arguments is a new advertisement, launched as part of the "Patients United Now" project and set to air this weekend, according to a source familiar with the ad buy. The tv spot features Shana Holmes--a Canadian woman who, according to the ad, suffered from brain cancer and came to the U.S. in order to get life-saving treatment. Here's the transcript:

Holmes: I survived a brain tumor, but if I’d relied on my government for healthcare, I’d be dead. I am a Canadian citizen. And as my brain tumor got worse, my government healthcare system told me I had to wait six months to see a specialist. In six months, I would have died.
Announcer: Government runs healthcare in Canada. Care is delayed or denied. Some patients wait a year for vital surgeries. Delays that can be deadly. Many drugs and treatments are not available because government says patients aren’t worth it.
Holmes: I am here today because I was able to travel to the U.S. where I received world-class treatment. Government healthcare isn’t the answer and it sure isn’t free.
Announcer: Now Washington wants to bring Canadian-style healthcare to the U.S., but government should never come in between your family and your doctor. Learn more at
Holmes: My advice to Americans – as patients, it’s your care. Don’t give up your rights.

I'm in no position to judge the specifics of Holmes' story. But I can speak to the narrator's policy statements. In fact, I have already--here, here, here, here, here, and here.

For those who'd like a review: Canadian health care has strenghts and weaknesses. The strenghts include superb primary care, administrative simplicity, and the kind of cradle-to-grave financial security virtually no Americans enjoy now. The weaknesses include some long waits for specialty care--although statistics suggest Canadians are not, on the whole, ending up in worse health than Americans because of them.

The real lie here, though, is in ads' broader implication: That, by reforming health care, "Washington" (a.k.a. President Obama and his allies) would import "Canadian-style healthcare" and, as a result, deny people life-saving treatment. This is demonstrably false.

Remember, Canada has a single-payer plan--one in which the government insures everybody directly, with virtually no role for private insurance. No politician with serious influence is talking about creating such a plan here (even though, for the record, I think such a plan could work pretty well if designed properly). In addition, Canada spends far less than we do on health care. That means fewer resources which, in turn, contributes to waiting lists. No politician with serious influence is talking about reducing spending to Canadian levels (although, to be clear, we should be spending less than we do now).

Reformed health care in the U.S. would, in all likelihood, look more like what you find in France, the Netherlands, or Switzlerand. These countries don't have problems with chronic waiting times. In fact, access to some services--particularly primary and emergency care--is easier and quicker than it is in the U.S. But these countires also make sure everybody has insurance coverage--and generous coverage at that. In other words, they get the best of all worlds. Not surprisingly, their people are far happier with their health care systems than we are with ours.

To invoke a beer analogy, Americans for Prosperity want you to believe Obama and their allies will be giving you the health care equivalent of LaBatt's when, in fact, they'll be giving you Amstel. Of course, you might take that LaBatt's if the only alternative was Bud--and you weren't even sure you could afford it.

(Yeah, I probably stretched that analogy a bit too far...) 

Update: More from Jason Rosenbaum. Also, I originally wrote that "no serious politician" favors single-payer reforms. In retrospect, this was unfair to the likes of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who are both serious and advocates of single-payer. So I changed the reference to "no politician with serious influence."

--Jonathan Cohn