Liberal Attack Ads Push Medical Reform; Turn Up Heat as Congress Debates to Overhaul Plans

Article excerpt

Byline: Sean Lengell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As Co ngress inches closer to drafting legislation intended to overhaul the nation's health care system, liberal groups - determined not to repeat the mistakes of a similar attempt by the Clinton administration in 1993 - are becoming more aggressive in their push for universal medical coverage.

The group Health Care for America Now (HCAN) began airing TV attack advertisements this month calling Rick Scott, a leading opponent of the health care reform movement, a fraud, cheat and a liar.

Liberal groups also are teaming with the health care industry to form coalitions unthinkable a few years ago to push for universal coverage.

And with the Senate expected to complete its health care reform package by late June, the public relations war isn't expected to quell any time soon - or get less personal.

I expect the ads to increase in frequency and pointedness, because there are a lot of financial interests at stake, said Bud Jackson, an Alexandria-based media consultant and Democratic strategist. When you get closer to the rubber meeting the road in health care as it becomes debated more in Congress, we'll see more specific ads and more contentious ads.

HCAN, a broad coalition of labor unions and liberal advocacy groups, has been waging an ad campaign for months to promote its agenda of affordable and universal health care. Its latest target is Mr. Scott, who made a fortune running the former Columbia Hospital Corp.

Mr. Scott's group Conservatives for Patients' Rights (CPR) has been pushing back at Democratic health care proposals in a television and radio ad campaign this month using testimony from Canadians and British citizens decrying their country's nationalized health care systems.

A system like England or Canada, where national boards make your health care decisions, and waiting lists reign supreme - that's what some in Washington mean by reform, says Mr. Scott in a recent radio ad.

Mr. Scott, who says health care is best served by private industry and not governments, said he plans to spend $15 billion to $20 billion this year to fight the Obama administration's health care agenda.

HCAN hit back at Mr. Scott with TV ads airing in Washington and his home of Naples, Fla., attacking his credibility - highlighting his 1997 ouster as head of the Columbia Hospital Corp. by its board of directors in the midst of a massive Medicare and Medicare fraud scandal. Four years later the company reached a plea agreement with the U.S. government that eventually led to it paying more than $1.7 billion in fines, back payments and lawsuit settlements.

Now Rick Scott is trying to block health care reform because he and his insurance company friends make millions from the broken system we have now, declares the HCAN ad. Before you listen to Rick Scott, look at his record.

Mr. Scott is the perfect anti-reform boogeyman for the left, many health care advocates say.

Rick Scott sticks out like a sore thumb, and most of us who support health care reform are delighted he's the source of the anti-reform movement because he lacks credibility, said Ron Pollack, executive director of health care advocacy group Families USA. …