Product placement has become such a subtle art form these days that it’s hard to tell the difference between advertising and the editorial or entertainment content. Case in point, right-leaning Politico.com a reports that the tea party astroturfers, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, and the Heritage Foundation, a Reaganite intellectual boneyard, are quietly underwriting the Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck radio shows, at a cost of several millions dollars:
POLITICO: In search of donations and influence, the three prominent conservative groups are paying hefty sponsorship fees to the popular talk show hosts. Those fees buy them a variety of promotional tie-ins, as well as regular on-air plugs – praising or sometimes defending the groups, while urging listeners to donate – often woven seamlessly into programming in ways that do not seem like paid advertising.
Those fees buy them a variety of promotional tie-ins, as well as regular on-air plugs — praising or sometimes defending the groups, while urging listeners to donate — often woven seamlessly into programming in ways that do not seem like paid advertising…
The Heritage Foundation pays about $2 million to sponsor Limbaugh’s show and about $1.3 million to do the same with Hannity’s…
Those millions also buy lies. For example, in the 1990s, the Heritage Foundation developed a conservative alternative to the Clinton administration’s Health Security Act, a universal health-care plan that the insurance industry paid lobbyists and their Republicans poodles in Congress, led by former Sen. Bob Dole, $1 billion to kill.
The centerpiece of the Heritage Foundation’s alternative to Hillarycare was the individual mandate, which required that every citizen buy insurance from a private health-insurance company.
In 2006, when he was governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney passed a health-care reform law based on the Heritage Plan, which included the individual mandate. Signing the law now universally known as Romneycare was Romney’s signature achievement as governor.
In 2009, Pres. Obama and the Democrats also based the reform bill that became the Affordable Care Act on the Heritage Plan. And this is where things started to get complicated for Heritage.
As part of a campaign to ensure that Pres. Obama fails at any cost, FreedomWorks and other corporate-funded tea-party astroturfers spent millions on a disinformation campaign to convince half-witted Americans that the Heritage Foundation’s individual mandate was “socialism.”
It worked, of course. And now that the individual mandate has become the scourge of the tea party fringe, Heritage is desperate to distance itself from the individual mandate and the rest of the reforms it so strongly advocated not so long ago.
Cue Rush Limbaugh:
Last month, in the midst of a flurry of scrutiny of GOP presidential candidates’ stances on health insurance mandates similar to one included in the 2010 Democratic healthcare overhaul, Limbaugh took to the airwaves to defend Heritage’s past support for such a proposal.
“The Heritage Foundation to this day says they are being impugned and misrepresented in terms of their advocacy for such a thing,” Limbaugh said, explaining that the venerable think tank [established in 1973] “abandoned the idea once they saw it implemented” and realized “it doesn’t work.”
Limbaugh, who has been a paid Heritage endorser since 2009, said the reversal did nothing to detract from the “profound” respect for Heritage. Heritage is the gold standard. Heritage was “every bit as involved in Reaganism as Reagan was, and nothing’s changed.”
We’ll come back to Limbaugh’s big lie here, that Romneycare doesn’t work, but first here’s how the American Spectator — the right-wing extremist magazine that secretly directed the multi-million dollar “Arkansas Project” smear campaign against the Clintons in 1990s that ultimately led to the impeachment — described the Heritage Foundation’s role in an article published four weeks ago:
In his aptly titled new book No Apologies, [Romney] writes, “The Heritage Foundation helped us construct an exchange that would make individual premium payments tax-advantaged, lowering costs even further.” But Heritage’s Stuart Butler, who played a key role in developing the exchanges concept, also supported a version of the individual mandate at the federal level. In his 1993 lecture “Why Conservatives Need A National Health Plan,” Butler argued, “The second element in our proposal is a requirement on Americans to obtain at least a basic package of health care insurance for themselves and their dependents.”
“[T]he insurance requirement [a.k.a. the individal mandate] is a protection for the rest of us against those who would exploit our good nature, forcing us to carry the risk that they should be responsible for as citizens in a society,” Butler continued. “So our mandate is not designed to micromanage people’s lives.” But it was a mandate to purchase health insurance.
Butler’s ideas influenced a 1993 bill introduced by Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.), who was authorized by then Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole to come up with an official Republican response to the Clinton health care plan. The Chafee counterproposal contained a federal individual mandate.
Romney inadvertently highlights the fact that Republicans — and even some conservatives — have in the past supported a federal individual mandate, the main issue in constitutional challenges to the national health care law. Romney even dropped hints that he might have once been such a Republican. During his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy, Romney said he would vote for the Chafee bill, albeit reluctantly … More recently, Romney has repeatedly defended the concept of an individual mandate against national critics.
“Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate,” Romney wrote in an April 2006 Wall Street Journal op-ed. “But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.” In a February 2007 speech, Romney crowed, “If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it [the Romney health plan], then that will be a model for the nation.” And in a January 2008 Republican presidential debate, he argued, “[I]f somebody can afford insurance and decides not to buy it, and then they get sick, they ought to pay their own way, as opposed to expect the government to pay their way. And that’s an American principle.”
Gov. Romney signed Romneycare — officially known as An Act Providing Access to Affordable, Quality, Accountable Health Care — into law on April 12, 2006.
In article published the day before the bill was signed, the Heritage Foundation’s Edmund Haislmaier preemptively defended the soon-to-be new law:
[The] element of the Massachusetts bill that has attracted the most attention and dispute is the “personal responsibility” provision, also known as the “individual mandate.”
From the outset, Gov. Romney stated that requiring individuals to buy health insurance in the currently fragmented and overly expensive insurance market would be wrong and counterproductive. But he also argued that if the market could be reorganized to make coverage universally available and portable, deregulated at least enough to make it affordable for the middle class, and subsidized enough to make it affordable for the low-income, then there would be no reasonable excuse for anyone to forgo health insurance.
Hold on. Don’t forget that there would be no need for government subsidies, or any “reforms,” in fact, if the health insurance companies — which reported $3 billion in profits last year — simply reduced the costs of premiums to a level that a family making, say, $24,000 a year could afford coverage. By lowering premiums, these companies would add about 50 million currently uninsured Americans to their customer base. They don’t need the government to require them to do it. They end the crisis tomorrow, if they chose to.
But we digress. The Heritage puff piece on Romneycare from 2006 continues:
Romney also pointed out that to allow people to go without health insurance when they can expect someone else to pay the tab for their treatment is a de facto mandate on providers and taxpayers. Romney’s plan was to take that option off the table, leaving only two choices: either buy insurance or pay for your own care. He proposed that those who want to go without coverage could place $10,000 in an interest-bearing escrow account, which providers could claim against if the individual did not pay medical bills…
The governor and legislature have provided their citizens with the tools to achieve what the public really wants: a health system with all the familiar comforts of existing employer group coverage but with the added benefits of portability, choice, and control.
Other governors and legislators would be well advised to consider this basic model as a framework for health care reform in their own states.
A week or so later, the Heritage Foundation published another article leading the cheer for Romneycare and the individual mandate:
Under federal law, nearly all hospitals are required to provide a certain level of treatment to all patients who visit their emergency rooms, regardless of those patients’ ability to pay. Gov. Romney sought a way to prevent the free-rider problem: those who take advantage of emergency services skip out on the charges, leaving taxpayers to cover the bill. Romney proposed that state residents either purchase health insurance or, if they chose not to do so, “self insure” by posting a $10,000 bond that could be put towards the cost of any hospital care they might use but be unable to afford. The Democrat[ic]-controlled legislature rejected the Governor’s proposal and forced on state residents a different choice: buy health insurance or pay a fine.
While many oppose a mandate to buy insurance — even basic catastrophic insurance to protect the community from individuals not paying their bills-on philosophical grounds — they should still have a firm factual understanding of the Massachusetts mandate, which may be less problematic than they realize. Thanks to regulatory changes that are a part of the Massachusetts plan, residents will be able to satisfy the mandate merely by purchasing catastrophic coverage through a high-deductible health plan or a Health Savings Account (HSA). With this regulatory change, the plan will promote HSA/high-deducible plans and make health care coverage more accessible and somewhat more affordable for individuals. The state will also provide lower-income individuals with a subsidy (essentially a voucher) to help them purchase health insurance, an approach similar to the refundable health tax credits that many support at the federal level. These changes make the mandate far less of a burden on individuals than it otherwise would have been.
But that was then. As a result of the disinformation campaign by FreedomWorks and Republican operatives like Tea Party Express, the Heritage Foundation has been forced to execute a Romney-style, 180-degree flip-flop on Romneycare.
And this is where the millions they pay Limbaugh comes into play. He lied on their behalf when he said Heritage reversed itself because Romneycare has not worked. It has:
Probably the biggest achievement its supporters can tout is the number of people that are now insured. More than 98 percent of Massachusetts’ residents now have insurance, including 99.8 percent of all children, making Massachusetts’ rate of uninsured the lowest in the United States. About 94 percent of state residents were insured before the law took effect in 2006.
Under the law, health insurance for adults earning up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, and children of parents earning up to 300 percent of that level, is fully subsidized.
About 77 percent of private companies are providing health insurance to their employees, compared to 70 percent before the law was passed, according to the office of Gov. Deval Patrick. The law requires that all employers with more than 11 full-time employees make a “fair and reasonable” contribution toward their workers’ health plans or face penalties.
The mandate that requires all state residents to carry health insurance has also proved to be effective. About 97 percent of taxpayers are complying with that requirement.
The law, however, has failed to curb rising costs. While implementation of the law itself didn’t put a major dent in the state’s budget — according to an analysis by independent group Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, the increase in net spending for the law was just 1 percent in fiscal year 2010 — it hasn’t reduced overall costs for policy holders.
Private spending per member grew by 15.5 percent on average between 2006 and 2008. Meanwhile, average premiums for full insurance increased 12.2 percent from 2006 to 2008, according to the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy.
Romneycare is also popular. “Two out of three adults in the state support the law,” according to the ABC report,”while 88 percent of doctors say it improved, or did not affect, the quality of care, per the BCBS survey.”