Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman April 29, 2019

No, Mitch McConnell was not cured of polio as a child because of government-funded care

Did the United States government fund Mitch McConnell's care and rehabilitation after he was diagnosed with polio as a young child?

The short answer is no.

A recently shared Facebook post makes that claim, though, and reads:.

"As a kid, Mitch McConnell had polio, and the government paid for ALL of his care and rehabilitation. Now, as the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, McConnell is taking government-funded care away from tens of millions of Americans. Let that sink in."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It is true that McConnell was diagnosed with polio when he was young, as he lays out in his 2016 memoir "The Long March." His treatment was not paid for by the government, but through charitable donations.

McConnell was diagnosed with polio in 1944 at the age of 2, nearly 10 years before the polio vaccine was developed. In his memoir, McConnell wrote that he received care in Warm Springs, Ga., at the polio treatment center founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had suffered from the disease.

David Oshinsky, historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "Polio: An American Story," told PolitiFact in an email that no government money was involved in the Warm Springs, Ga., treatment center. It was "all voluntary private contributions."

The rumor surfaced on social media in June 2017 as Senate Republicans, led by McConnell, took steps to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Featured Fact-check

The Occupy Democrats Facebook page posted the meme with an accompanying article that reported government-sponsored public funds saved McConnell’s life, several outlets reported at the time.

That story, which appeared on the Occupy Democrats website, has since been deleted. We tracked down a snapshot of the article using the web archive tool Wayback Machine.

Another story with similar reporting surfaced the same day on the online magazine Death and Taxes.

Both falsely claim that McConnell’s care and rehabilitation was paid for by the public and, thus, was government-funded. But no federal dollars helped cure McConnell of the disease; it was a privately-funded facility.

In 1937, Roosevelt re-established the Warm Springs Foundation as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis and, in 1938, the foundation launched the first March of Dimes fundraiser. Comedian and radio personality Eddie Cantor coined the phrase and helped promote the nationwide March of Dimes campaign that was to line up with the president’s annual birthday ball on Jan. 30.

Cantor and other organizers solicited donations on the radio the month leading up the ball, and by Jan. 29, 1938, the eve of the president’s birthday, "over 80,000 letters with dimes and dollars flooded the White House mailroom." The mailroom was "literally buried in an avalanche of donations, a total of 2,680,000 dimes or $268,000," according to the March of Dimes website.

Funds also went to research grants to find a cure for the disease. That materialized in the mid 1950s, when Jonas Salk successfully developed the polio vaccine.

While Roosevelt’s political office promoted the fundraising for polio care and research, and the president used his name and popularity to help raise funds, the money came from the charity of the American people, as well as celebrities and corporations.

The care McConnell received as a toddler was not taxpayer or government-funded, as the viral meme suggests. The facility operated as a nationwide nonprofit organization.

We rate this meme False.

Share the Facts
PolitiFact rating logo PolitiFact Rating:
Says Mitch McConnell was cured of polio when he was a child by government-funded care and now he’s trying to take that same care away from millions of Americans
Monday, April 22, 2019

Our Sources

Facebook post, April 22, 2019

Washington Post, No, the government did not pay for Mitch McConnell’s polio care. Charity did., June 27, 2017, Fact Check: Did U.S. pay for McConnell’s polio treatment?, July 22, 2017

WayBack Machine, Occupy Democrats June 22, 2017 story, Accessed April 26, 2019

WayBack Machine, Death and Taxes June 22, 2017 story, Accessed April 26, 2019

"The Long Game, A Memoir" p. 8-10, 2016; Accessed April 26, 2019

March of Dimes, Origin Of Our Name, Accessed April 26, 2019

New York Times archive, Net of receipts from paralysis funds proceeds July 7, 1938

Email interview, David Oshinsky, historian and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historical book "Polio: An American Story," April 25-26, 2019

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Samantha Putterman

No, Mitch McConnell was not cured of polio as a child because of government-funded care

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up