“Does Obama’s Doctor Oppose Health Reform?”
Tracy Sibbel and Kyle Steffen
Mass Media and Politics
The anti-health care reform commercial called “Oppose Obamacare” is sponsored by
Our Country Deserves Better, an organization originally formed to oppose President Obama in
his run for the presidency. The advertisment claims that even Obama’s doctor is not in support
of the president’s health care reform agenda. The ad tells the audience to expect longer waits
for health care and warns that doctors will close their practices to new patients due to higher
costs. Lastly, the commercial claims the elderly will be denied care due to rationing.
Dr. Davis Scheiner, a doctor in Kansas City who was Obama’s doctor after 1987, was
recently featured in an article in Forbes magazine. The article started with Dr. Scheiner saying,
“I’m not sure [Obama] really understands what we face in primary care.” This quote is used in
the commercial. However, the ad fails to put his quote in context of the interview. Scheiner
goes on to say Obama’s “public plan” reform doesn’t go far enough. He believes a “good health
reform would be ‘Medicare for all,’ a single-payer system where the government would cover
everyone and pay for it by cutting waste in the system.” While the ad makes it seem Obama’s
doctor is against his plan, in reality Scheiner thinks the action Obama is taking is not enough.
Scheiner goes on to say, “Obama probably sees the virtues of a single-payer system but has
decided it would be politically impossible to create one.”
Later in the commercial, a quote taken from the Wall Street Journal on May 12, 2009
warns people to “expect longer waits for appointments” and claims that “more doctors will
close their practices to new patients.” The opinion article, written by Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a
former official at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, discusses possible effects of
the “public option.” The first quote comes from the by-line of the article, which is derived from
a paragraph detailing how doctors will have to consolidate practices to spread overhead costs,
resulting in less time in the schedule for patients and longer waits for an initial appointment.
This is the source of the claim that doctors will close their practices to new patients. However,
when Obama addressed the American Medical Association, as covered by the New York Times,
he called for incentives to get more medical students into primary care to cut down on the load
doctors now have. Obama also supported better reimbursements for primary care physicians
in an interview with Dr. Timothy Johnson on ABC.
Reimbursing these physicians could prevent people from needing to go to an emergency
room because they would receive adequate care earlier, eliminating expensive ER costs. From
another New York Times article, another possible proposal is to increase Medicare payments to
general practitioners at the expense of specialists. There seems to be no clear answer to this
issue as the lack of primary care physicians is already a problem, but one that Obama hopes to
address in the reform. It is hard to predict how successful the reimbursements will be in terms
of the current and potential shortage of primary care physicians.
Taken from a conservative blog post at Newsmax.com, the final claim is that “Medicare
rationing will fall on the elderly,” and they will be denied care. Written by Dick Morris, a news
commentator for Fox News (and former political consultant), and his wife Eileen McGann, an
attorney, the article claims, “If the Democrats obey President Barack Obama’s command and a
pass a healthcare bill by the August recess, they’ll be committing partisan suicide.” The article
continues in much of the same fashion, describing possible outcomes and the extreme
disastrous effects this plan will cause.
The claim about denying care to the elderly is based on the Federal Health Board idea.
If passed as the idea was originally proposed by former Sen. Tom Dashcle, the Board would
make decisions on health care issues like reimbursement policy, transparency, and standards
for sharing patient information, according to an article from Hospitals and Health Networks.
Morris and McGann stretch and extrapolate from this board idea and end up with something
similar to Sarah Palin’s “death panels” claim.
LESSON: This ad takes ideas out of context in service of a misleading, message. While
longer waits in the new system are one possible outcome, the ad’s conclusions are based on
assumptions, not actual facts. Always investigate where a claim comes from. Make sure you
look at the context of any cited quotes or statistics. Not sure who to trust about health care
reform? Do your research before trusting claims in political ads.