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Health Reform AdWatch: Government bureaucrats in geeky glasses in your examining room???

Consumer Reports News: August 27, 2009 02:55 PM

Health reform commercials are everywhere this month, with media outlets reporting last week that more than $57 million has now been spent on such ads. Two of the latest entries bring a touch of kookiness and earnest hopefulness to home viewers. This quirky spot is sponsored by Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a lobbying group, and produced by the same PR agency that orchestrated the 2004 "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" campaign against John Kerry. In the commercial, called "Drop It," a nerdy government bureaucrat with a clipboard marked "Federal Health Police" shows up at a woman’s doctor’s appointment and jauntily wags his finger "no" at what the woman and her doctor have decide presumably decided. "Today," a voiceover begins, "you make the medical decisions that are best for you," then goes on to explain that under Congress’s proposed health-care overhaul, "you could end up with government bureaucrats taking away your choices, getting in between you and your doctor."

They neglect to mention that someone already gets between you and your doctor: Insurance companies, who have their own bureaucrats whose job is to limit how much is paid out in benefits, in part by deciding which doctors, hospitals, and even brands of drugs they’ll pay for.

The ad repeatedly calls the proposed new system "government-run health care," a favorite catchphrase among reform opponents that is patently false, for two reasons:

  • The reform bills under consideration include a public health plan as just one option for individuals and some small business shopping for insurance. The other option would be private insurance, just like we have now, but minus such pesky inconveniences as not being able to get coverage if you have an occasional migraine or were treated for acne as a teenager.
  • The government already has its hand in plenty of people’s health care. It’s called Medicare, and while certainly not perfect, it gives more choice in doctors and hospitals and has fewer restrictions on treatments than most private insurance plans do.

On the other side of the debate, check out this spot from Americans for Stable Quality Care, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink coalition of pro-reform groups that includes the American Medical Association, Americans for Stable Quality Care Families USA, the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America, and the Service Employees International Union. Called "What Does Reform Mean for You?," it’s the first ad in a $12 million campaign that will run in key states in the coming weeks.

To a background of poignant piano music, images of happy-looking patients and health professionals cross the screen and a voiceover lists the specific ways Americans would benefit under a reformed system. Most of these points, like not being denied coverage because of preexisting conditions and not getting dropped if you get sick, are right on. But two other statements overpromise about stuff that’s really still unknown. 

  • Health care will be between you and your doctor. Funny, that’s the exact opposite of what the first ad says will happen. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle: Nothing in the bill will change the way health plans pay for things, and they’ll still be able to limit which doctors, hospitals, and brands of drugs they’ll cover. But there will be no new types of government interference.
  • Less waste and red tape. Sounds great, but it’s tough to quantify. The bills aim to reduce insurance-related red tape by eliminating medical underwriting and standardizing the Byzantine process by which doctors and hospitals collect reimbursements. But the bills don’t do much to reduce unnecessary treatments that, by some estimates, could be cut by 30 percent without compromising quality. One man’s waste, after all, is another’s livelihood.

Jamie Kopf Hirsh, associate editor

Keep up with our health reform coverage and find out how we'd fix the broken health system.

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