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Mitch McConnell's Deadly Lies about Obamacare

June 4, 2014

Mitch McConnell has an Obamacare problem. Make that 410,000 problems. Because that's how many of his constituents obtained health insurance through his state's very popular Kynect exchange. And as he well knows, repealing the Affordable Care Act "root and branch" means virtually all of those Kentuckians will lose the coverage the ACA's Medicaid expansion and private insurance subsidies made possible. And that means, as numerous analyses have shown, hundreds of the newly uninsured Kentuckians will needlessly die--every year.
So facing a tough reelection race this fall, Mitch McConnell did what Mitch McConnell does. He lied about taking people's health insurance away, like he lied during his failed effort to prevent them from getting it in the first place.
From the beginning of the heated debate over what would become the Affordable Care Act, the Senate Minority leader was among the leading regurgitators of the GOP's repeatedly debunked talking points. Following Republican wordmeister Frank Luntz's guidance, in June 2009 McConnell spewed the sound bite that Obamacare would "lead to the government rationing care, making people stand in line and denying treatment like they do in other countries with national healthcare." For example:

"Americans don't want their health care denied or delayed. But once government health care is the only option, bureaucratic hassles, endless hours stuck on hold waiting for a government service rep, restrictions on care, and rationing are sure to follow." (June 3, 2009)
"All of us want reform, but not reform that denies, delays, or rations health care." (June 10, 2009)
"Americans want to see changes in the health care system. But they don't want changes that deny, delay, or ration care." (June 11, 2009)

And at a time when nearly 50 million people in the United States were without insurance coverage, McConnell like President Bush and Tom Delay before him insisted that no one in America goes without health care because "you just go to an emergency room." As he explained to NBC's David Gregory in July 2009, the uninsured cancer victim and the diabetes patient alike need have no fear:

GREGORY: Do you think it's a moral issue that 47 million Americans go without health insurance?
McCONNELL: Well, they don't go without health care. It's not the most efficient way to provide it. As we know, the doctors in the hospitals are sworn to provide health care. We all agree it is not the most efficient way to provide health care to find somebody only in the emergency room and then pass those costs on to those who are paying for insurance. So it is important, I think, to reduce the number of uninsured. The question is, what is the best way to do that?

In McConnell's telling, a "government takeover of health care" was not the way. Of course, by bolstering private insurers, private hospitals and private physicians, Obamacare was never a "government takeover of health care," a GOP deception Politifact named its 2010 Lie of the Year. Nevertheless, in the summer of 2009, Senator McConnell trotted out Canadian Shona Holmes and the UK's Bruce Hardy as his poster children for the perils of government health care. But as the New York Times documented at the time, McConnell conveniently left out key details from Holmes' and Hardy's tales of woe:

Both Ms. Holmes and Mr. Hardy were denied care under their government-run health insurance programs. Ms. Holmes needed surgery for a cyst in her brain that was threatening her eyesight, and Mr. Hardy wanted an expensive new cancer drug...
What Mr. McConnell did not mention was that the government reversed its decision and provided the medication.
Mr. Hardy, who was featured in a front page article in The New York Times in December, and his wife, Joy, paid $11,500 for two months of treatment with Sutent, a drug made by Pfizer, before the government's National Institute for Clinical Health and Effectiveness decided to approve the drug.
What Mr. McConnell did not disclose was that Ms. Holmes paid for her treatment, at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, on her own - an option that is available to patients with financial resources all over the world regardless of their nation's health insurance system.

Senator McConnell was making this case even as hundreds of thousands of Americans could not purchase health insurance at any price due to the carriers' cruel practices of discriminating against those with preexisting conditions and "rescission," in which policyholders were dropped after they became sick. Regardless, before this year's implementation of the ACA studies from Harvard Medical School, the Urban Institute and Families USA estimated that between 22,000 and 45,000 uninsured Americans needlessly died each year. Nevertheless, in October 2009 Senator McConnell insisted to Dennis Miller that the availability of a "public option" for Americans to buy insurance from the government would literally kill people. Blasting the "opt-out" version of the public option in the Senate bill, the Senator from the state ranked 45th in health care performance insisted access to coverage could be deadly:

MCCONNELL: Well, it doesn't make any difference frankly whether you opt-in or you opt-out, it's still a government plan. You know, Medicaid, the program for the poor now, states can opt-out of that, but none of them have. I think if you have any kind of government insurance program, you're going to be stuck with it and it will lead us in the direction of the European style, you know, sort of British-style, single payer, government run system. And those systems are known for delays, denial of care and, you know, if your particular malady doesn't fit the government regulation, you don't get the medication.
MILLER: Right.
MCCONNELL: And it may cost you your life. I mean, we don't want to go down that path.

McConnell's position was more than a little ironic. After all, despite claiming that Obamacare is "sticking it to seniors" by trimming more than $700 billion in overpayments to Medicare providers, Minority Leader McConnell voted three years in a row for the Paul Ryan budget containing exactly the same reductions. More ironic still, the Ryan plan called for using a voucher scheme to privatize Medicare while maintaining the traditional, government "public option" as one insurance plan future seniors could choose.
Despite Mitch McConnell's scorched-earth campaign to smother Obamacare in its cradle, the Affordable Care Act nevertheless became the law of the land in March 2010. And on the very day President Obama inked the legislation, Mitch McConnell unveiled the new Republican strategy going forward. As the New York Times reported on March 23, 2010:

Meeting with reporters after a private party strategy meeting, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, took pains to say that Republicans will push not only to overturn the law, but that they intend to replace it with something else.
"I think the slogan will be "repeal and replace", "repeal and replace," Mr. McConnell said. "No one that I know in the Republican conference in the Senate believes that no action is appropriate."

But over four years later, Congressional Republicans have yet to unite behind a single bill to replace Obamacare. And after 50 House votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Senate Minority Leader McConnell is still mouthing the same slogan. As he put it in March:

"Americans agree that it's time for Washington Democrats to work with us to remedy the mess they created--and that means repealing this law and replacing it with real reforms."

But while those reforms remain a mystery, McConnell's position grows more mysterious by the day. In April, he told Kentucky voters "We're going to figure out a way to get this fixed." During its primary campaign ads on his behalf, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce declared Mitch McConnell was "leading the fight to fix this Obamacare mess." But his own words undermine McConnell's self-proclaimed Mr. Fix It title. As he declared in November:

"I think this thing was so botched from the beginning, that it's not fixable,"

Unfortunately for Mitch McConnell, thanks to Democratic Governor Steve Beshear Kentucky enjoyed one of the smoothest roll-outs of Obamacare in the nation. 330,000 Kentuckians obtained coverage through Medicaid, a program whose expansion was 100 percent funded by the federal government thanks to Obamacare. Another 82,000 people purchased private insurance through the Kynect exchange, most of them utilizing subsidies provided the ACA. That's why the state's largest paper slammed McConnell for claiming the fate of Kynect is "unconnected" to Obamacare.

Nothing could be more connected -- or should be more important to Kentucky's senior senator -- than the fates of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians who are getting health insurance, many for the first time.

Kentucky's five-term Senator, the Lexington Herald-Leader concluded, "is pretending there's no connection." But there's no pretending about what will happen if Mitch McConnell succeeds in his quest to take health insurance away from over 400,000 Kentuckians. Hundreds of them die annually.
And die needlessly, all because of Mitch McConnell's killer lies.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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