By Libby Watson for Splinter News
The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future is a lobbying group dedicated to fighting single-payer and even public option
health plans, formed by the biggest players in the health insurance
industry—pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and health insurers, among
others. We don’t know how much money they have, but one of their
members, the pharma trade group PhRMA, raised $456 million last year alone, so it’s likely to be quite a lot.
I receive PAHCF’s press releases, which are frequent. Every so often, they’ll highlight “voices throughout the nation” in a recurring feature they call “WHAT THEY ARE SAYING,” collecting anti-Medicare for All letters to the editor and op-eds from around the country. The strong implication is that these voices are somehow representative of Real Americans who fear Medicare for All, and not just the talking points of an industry-sponsored group.
Take this quote from Mustafa Tameez in a March 1 PAHCF press release, for example:
Mustafa Tameez, Businessman, Texas:
… I think we have to do is improve what’s working with the ACA and fix what’s broken before we try and change the system all over again … We have to have a better partnership with both the public sector and the private sector, and I think the solutions lie there, rather than all the solutions are with the private sector or all with the public sector. Anytime you see strong public-private partnerships, that’s when you find most efficiency, rather than putting it in one or the other.
PAHCF describes Tameez as a “businessman.” Sounds nice and normal, someone who would have a unique understanding into how harmful Medicare for All could be—taxes!!! Ahhh!!!
But Tameez isn’t simply a businessman. He’s the managing director at Texas-based Outreach Strategists, a public affairs and lobbying firm. Their clients include Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, University of Texas Physicians, and St. Luke’s Hospital, among others. This seems rather relevant, but is not disclosed. Another PAHCF press release quoted an op-ed that Tameez published on the Houston Chronicle’s In the Loop blog, which doesn’t describe his job at all.
In advocacy campaigns, there are grassroots—genuine, broad-based political action by real people not employed in politics day to day—and grasstops, the practice of cultivating local leaders to influence their communities. And then there’s astroturfing, the practice of trying to create a false impression of broad public support or outrage on an issue when there isn’t any. Big, well-funded advocacy firms in DC spend quite a lot of their time doing these sorts of things.
This is the advantage of “grassroots” activities: It lends a legitimacy that, say, quotes from the people who directly stand to profit from the continuation of a private healthcare system can never achieve. It is more convincing to hear arguments about what would happen to real people from those real people than just another politics wanker in DC. But when those voices are few and far between, sometimes you have to get a little bit creative about who counts as a regular American.
Tameez isn’t the only example of this. A PAHCF press release from today quotes a letter to the editor of the Billings Gazette from Jim Corson, who is simply quoted as “Jim Corson, Montana.” Who is Jim? Jim worked for former Sen. Max Baucus
for 14 years. Baucus, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the
Affordable Care Act’s chief proponent in the Senate, helped kill the public option in the ACA, and was a fierce opponent of even discussing single-payer
in healthcare reform hearings in 2009. Now, that’s not to say that what
happened 10 years ago means Corson is ethically compromised on this
issue; it just means that highlighting his voice as one of Real
Americans without saying who he actually is comes off as just a tad
We’ve reached out to PAHCF to ask if they’ve worked with any of the individuals highlighted in their newsletters to place letters to the editor or op-eds in newspapers. We’ve also reached out to all of the letter and op-ed writers named in this post themselves to ask if they had help placing these and if they disclosed their work or political activism to the papers or the PAHCF. We’ll update if and when we receive any responses.
James Rang was described as a “businessman” in Iowa when PAHCF quoted his March 7 op-ed in the Telegraph Herald, which is behind a paywall, saying: “In a single-payer system, patient choice and free-market competition are removed to make way for higher costs and reductions in the standards of our care.”
What is not disclosed is that Rang’s business is the insurance business: He is the vice president in the employee benefits department at the Friedman Group, meaning it is his job to sell health insurance to businesses. In 2018, James won an award from Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield. Way to go, Jim! But I would say that when it comes to PAHCF pushing his quote, it is somewhat less convincing that it came from a guy whose job is to sell private health insurance, since that entire industry would basically go away if Medicare for All passed.
Carlos Carbonell from Florida is yet another person described as a “businessman,” when PAHCF quoted his words to the Orlando Sentinel’s “panel of 100 influential leaders.” The Sentinel described Carbonell as a “CEO/Founder Echo: Tech Strategy & Apps.” You know, Apps. What Carbonell also is: A “Public Affairs Advisor” at Converge Strategies, a government affairs (read: lobbying) firm whose website says it works with the healthcare industry, though it doesn’t name specific clients. Just another businessman sharing his businessman opinion!
Jack A. Roy’s February 23 letter to the editor of the Eagle-Tribune in Massachussetts is quoted, saying: “Recently many politicians have embraced another healthcare proposal, ‘Medicare for All.’ I do not understand how this could work.” Who is Jack? Jack is the former head of the Haverhill City Republican Committee. Just a normal person who could otherwise absolutely be expected to be open to supporting Medicare for All.
Mark Havlicek is yet another “businessman” quoted by PAHCF from his short February 18 letter to the Des Moines Register, which doesn’t actually describe him as a businessman at all. How did PAHCF know what Havlicek does for a living? Did they just guess, since it seems like 90 percent of the letters to the editor are written by bored “businessmen” who should be doing their real jobs?
Anyway, Havlicek is indeed a businessman. According to his LinkedIn, he is a vice president at Wells Fargo Mortgage and runs a management consulting firm, though his page says the group also offers “political consulting.” This makes sense, since Havlicek is experienced in politics: He was a member of Jeb Bush’s Iowa leadership team, and a press release from the time describes him as a “committed Republican activist.” Again, just someone who you would expect to have a good-faith objection to Medicare for All.
To be clear, PAHCF has
also quoted other people who don’t work in politics or have any
discernible financial interest in the current healthcare system. That’s
not surprising, since Medicare for All is a big issue, and there must be
some people out there who don’t want it and who have the time and
energy to write a letter to their local paper saying so.
But this is, I would say, quite a lot of fake-ass people to quote without disclosing anything about who they are, or how they found them. So next time you see PAHCF or people or groups with similar aimspush out “voices throughout the nation” who are objecting to Medicare for All, just think hard about who those voices actually are, and how representative of the rest of the country they are.