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Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher August 26, 2012

Tommy Thompson says U.S. Senate rival Tammy Baldwin wants to go "far beyond 'Obamacare'"

A day after winning the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson used health care to contrast himself with his opponent in the general election, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.

In the Aug. 15, 2012 interview with Vicki McKenna, a conservative radio talk show host based at WIBA-AM (1310) in Madison, Thompson declared:   

"Tammy Baldwin, who is a nice lady, but believes philosophically that she wants a health care system that is completely government controlled. She did not think 'Obamacare' went far enough. She was far beyond 'Obamacare.' She wants a Medicare system for all, in which the government makes all the decisions for your health care system."

We rated Mostly True a Thompson claim that Baldwin is the most liberal member of the House. But with polls indicating most Americans want to repeal Obama’s federal health reform law, does Baldwin really want to go further? To a "completely government-controlled" health care system that provides Medicare not only for people over 65 but for everyone?

Health reform terms

As we begin, it’s important to look at key terms connected to health care reform and Obama’s reform law.

These definitions are from the Kaiser Family Foundation, an independent organization that analyzes the health care system.

Universal care: A system that provides health coverage to all people through measures such as an individual mandate or a single-payer system.

Individual mandate: A requirement that all individuals obtain health insurance.

Single-payer: A health care system in which the government pays for health care services, but is not involved in the delivery of health care.

Public option: An insurance plan administered and funded by the government that would be offered along with private insurance plans.

Obama’s health reform law

The health reform that Obama signed into law in 2010 law significantly increases government regulation of health insurers and includes an individual mandate for nearly all Americans.

(During the primary campaign we rated False a claim by Thompson, who supports repealing Obama’s reform law, that he never supported a mandate.)

Under the reform law, as PolitiFact National has reported, employers will continue providing health insurance to most Americans and, overall, more people will get private health coverage. And it goes without saying that the reform law doesn’t take the European approach, where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees; nor the Canadian universal-single payer approach, in which no private insurance is allowed.

Baldwin’s position

Now, let’s look at Baldwin, who was elected to the House in 1998, and see how she stands on these key points:

Universal care: Baldwin has long advocated providing health insurance for everyone.

In 1999, Baldwin spoke at a Washington, D.C. rally for the "Universal Health Care 2000 (U2K)" movement. In a news release about the event, she said she was one of the few politicians who ran for office in 1998 "who dared to make ‘health care for all’ the focus of her campaign for Congress."

Baldwin also announced that Wisconsin could be one of 10 states to receive grants to develop suggestions for a "federal-state partnership to provide health coverage for all of their citizens."

(Interestingly, the announcement was made with Thompson at the governor’s office in Madison, the release said.)

In 2000, Baldwin introduced the Health Security for All Americans Act, which would have required states to provide universal coverage. The bill died without a House vote, as it did Baldwin after reintroduced it in 2002, 2004 and 2005.

Single-payer: Baldwin tried to get the government more involved in health care by making it the sole payer of health care services.

In 2009, on the day the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted for Obama’s reform law, Baldwin said: "I am one of the members of this committee who believes strongly that a single-payer health system is the best way to comprehensively and fairly reform our health care system."

That version of Obama’s measure didn’t include the single-payer element, but Baldwin said she had "played a role in securing a commitment that a single-payer health care alternative will receive consideration by the full House of Representatives."

So, in pushing single-payer, Baldwin would go beyond Obama’s law.

Public option: Baldwin advocates for the federal government offering health insurance along with private insurers.

Baldwin said she hoped a public option in Obama’s law would lead to single-payer. The version of Obama’s measure that Baldwin voted for in 2009 included the public option, but the final version did not.

Baldwin continues to advocate for going further than the Obama reform law does. On her official House website, Baldwin says her "driving motivation in politics is to pass legislation that will guarantee health care for all in America." She also says that the reform law "is not perfect, and I will continue to work to improve it as it is phased in over the next four years. In particular, I strongly believe that allowing Americans the choice of a public option is essential."

Now, to the third part of Thompson’s claim, that Baldwin supports "Medicare for all."

Thompson campaign spokesman Brian Nemoir pointed out that Baldwin was one of several dozen co-sponsors of the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, which has been introduced several times during her tenure. It would have provided universal care by creating a national health insurance program and prohibiting private insurers from selling coverage that duplicates benefits in the program.

Susan Giaimo, a visiting political science professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, whose specialties include health care politics and policy, told us the government would have had a lot of clout in negotiating prices with health care providers under the bill. It’s not clear whether "Medicare for all" would get rid of private health insurance, but private health care providers would remain, she said. And it doesn’t go as far as the British model of "socialized medicine," with the government owning hospitals and employing the health care workers, she said.  

A final note:

Thompson and other Republicans like to cite a clip from a speech Baldwin made at a September 2010 political rally in which she said, chuckling: "I actually was for a government takeover of medicine. I was for a single-payer plan."

Baldwin actually was criticizing those who called Obama’s reform law a "government takeover" (which PolitiFact chose as its lie of the year for 2010). But she did go on to say she wanted to go further than the reform law does: "I was for a single-payer plan and that isn’t, as we know, what we ended up with, but I also think what we ended up with was incredible progress for the American people."

Our rating

Thompson said Baldwin wants a "completely government-controlled" health care system that goes "far beyond 'Obamacare'" and is "a Medicare system for all."

Baldwin hasn’t hasn’t advocated for socialized medicine. But she has pushed "Medicare for all" legislation and she supports single payer and the public option, government elements that go beyond Obama’s reform law.  

On balance, we rate Thompson’s statement Mostly True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

WIBA-AM, Vicki McKenna interview (at 5:15) of Tommy Thompson, Aug. 15, 2012

C-SPAN, Tammy Baldwin at House Energy and Commerce Committee (at 3:26), July 31, 2009

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, news release on health care legislation vote, July 31, 2009

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, news release on universal health care, May 1, 2001

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, news release on Health Security for All Americans Act, Aug. 2, 2000

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, news release on state health care initiative, Nov. 22, 1999

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, news release on universal health care rally, Oct. 22, 1999

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, health care page of House website

U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, biography page of House website

New York Times, "Health care reform," Aug. 12, 2012

PolitiFact National, "PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: ‘A government takeover of health care,’" Dec. 16, 2010

PolitiFact National, "Obama statements on single-payer have changed a bit," July 16, 2009

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Republican group says Julie Lassa pushed for a Canadian-style health care system in Wisconsin," Oct. 30, 2010

Kaiser Family Foundation, "Glossary of key health reform terms"

Interview, Marquette University visiting professor of political science Susan Giaimo, Aug. 21, 2012

Email interview, Tommy Thompson campaign political director Brian Nemoir, Aug. 20 and 21, 2012

Email interview, Tammy Baldwin campaign communications director John Kraus, Aug. 20 and 21, 2012

Wisconsin State Journal, "Baldwin’s long fight for health care reform," Aug. 31, 2009

The Nation, "House passes health reform, but without reproductive rights," Nov. 7, 2009, Tammy Baldwin speech at Fighting Bob Fest (at 7:45), Sept. 14, 2010

Congressional Research Service, summary of Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act

Rasmussen Reports, "52% call for repeal of health care law," Aug. 20, 2012, "Members talk about a public option," July 9, 2009


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