Why Ryan Tackles Medicare

Why is Paul Ryan taking on Medicare, an overwhelmingly popular government program? Principled daring proclaim the conservative pundits.

Bullshit, of course.

Pay attention to the man, or rather insurance companies, behind the curtain says Wendell Potter. Ryan's plan would toss some trillions of dollars into health insurance company coffers over the next couple of decades, and for that kind of bucks they are prepared to take some risks - not to mention committing perhaps a billion or three to a massive disinformation campaign. Potter, a former insurance executive, was at the meetings when they plotted their strategy.

Ryan et al would never propose such a fundamental reshaping of those programs unless they were confident that corporate America stands ready to help them sell their ideas to the public. Like big business CEOs, Congressional Republicans wouldn't think of rolling out Ryan's budget plan without a carefully crafted political and communications strategy and the assurance that adequate funding would be available to carry it out.

Republicans know they can rely on health insurance companies -- which would attract trillions of taxpayer dollars if Ryan's dream comes true -- to help bankroll a massive campaign to sell the privatization of Medicare to the public.

Four years ago, in a secret insurance industry meeting in Philadelphia, I saw numbers that were similar to those in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. The industry's pollster, Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, told insurance company executives, who had assembled to begin planning a campaign to shape the health care reform debate, that Americans were rapidly losing confidence in the private health insurance market.

For the first time ever, he said, more than 50 percent of Americans believed that the government should do more to solve the many problems that plagued the U.S. health care system. In fact, he said, a fast-growing percentage of Americans were embracing the idea of a government run "Medicare-for-All" type program to replace private insurers.

The executives came to realize at the meeting that the industry's very survival was dependent upon the successful execution of a comprehensive campaign to change public attitudes toward private insurers. They needed to convince Americans they "added value" to the health care system, and that what the public should fear would be more government control.

Knowing that a campaign publicly identified with the industry would have little credibility, the executives endorsed a strategy that would use their business and political allies -- and front groups -- as messengers.

Consider yourselves warned.


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