Says Tammy Baldwin supports a law "in which government will take over your decisions on medicine, on doctors and on hospitals."

Tommy Thompson on Thursday, September 27th, 2012 in an interview

In Senate race, Thompson says Baldwin backs government takeover of medical decisions

In his quest to win a Wisconsin U.S. Senate seat, and perhaps swing control of the Senate to the GOP, Republican Tommy Thompson has persistently cast Democrat Tammy Baldwin as extreme.

On WISN-AM in Milwaukee on Sept. 27, 2012, the former governor's theme was health care.

Thompson told conservative talk show Jay Weber that if Baldwin is elected, "she will be pushing for a national health care provision in which government will take over your decisions on medicine, on doctors and on hospitals."

We’ve previously rated as Mostly True Thompson’s claim that Baldwin wants to go beyond President Barack Obama’s health care reform law to a "Medicare system for all."

But Thompson himself goes extreme when he says the Madison congresswoman would have the federal government decide a patient’s private medical matters.


Thompson's language calls to mind PolitiFact National's 2010 Lie of the Year -- the claim that "Obamacare" constituted a "government takeover of health care."

As our colleagues observed:

"Government takeover" conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees. But the Affordable Care Act, adopted in 2010, relies largely on the free market, with employers continuing to provide health insurance to most Americans through private insurance companies. Indeed, a larger number of people will get private health coverage through the creation of insurance exchanges.

But Thompson’s statement wasn’t as sweeping. He charged that legislation backed by Baldwin would have the government "take over your decisions" on medicine, doctors and hospitals.

Since it is clear Baldwin has supported going beyond "Obamacare," that raises the question of whether Thompson’s specific point could be accurate.

Thompson campaign spokeswoman Lisa Boothe cited two legislative efforts to back Thompson’s statement, correctly pointing out that Baldwin supported Obama’s reform law, even though it didn’t go as far as she wanted, and that she supports a "single-payer" health care system.

We’ll note that while Obama’s law has been adopted (although not all features are yet in place), we can only speculate on the details of a single-payer health care system, since a single-payer system has not been adopted.

"Obamacare": Boothe argued the reform law "puts the government in between a patient and their doctor in Medicare."

But she didn’t elaborate, other than to claim Obama is cutting Medicare funding (which PolitiFact Florida called Half True, given that his reform law reduces the growth of Medicare spending).

Boothe also argued the law "leaves an unaccountable board of 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of rationing care and limiting access to health care."

PolitiFact National has reported that while Obama’s plan establishes a board to make recommendations about future savings, it does not outline a dramatic, structural overhaul of the program. Moreover, our colleagues have found, the board doesn’t make decisions for individuals.

"Single-payer": Single-payer refers to a health care system in which the government pays for all health care services but is not involved in the delivery of health care.

Boothe argued that under single-payer, if, for example, "an area has three different hospitals, the government could come in and dictate which one they will continue to fund." Or, she said, the government could decide not to fund religious-affiliated hospitals, "thus removing you from your doctor and health care provider, and ultimately making decisions on your behalf."

But a system in which the government pays for all health care isn’t the same as one in which the government "will take over your decisions on medicine, on doctors and on hospitals."

And Baldwin campaign spokesman John Kraus pointed out that a single-payer measure Baldwin introduced in 2009 would have allowed patients "free choice of participating physicians and other clinicians, hospitals, and inpatient care facilities."

Health policy experts

We contacted three experts: George Washington University health policy professor Brian Biles; Georgetown University health systems administration professor Robert Friedland; and Baruch College health care policy professor Shoshanna Sofaer.

None was persuaded by Thompson’s claim.

On the health care reform law’s changes to Medicare, Biles said the law will put more people into private insurance plans, through the creation of "exchanges," allowing them to choose from among private plans. Private insurers already limit access to certain doctor and hospital networks, as they did before the health reform law, and that isn’t the government making decisions for a patient, he said.

Sofaer said virtually any physician in good standing and any accredited hospital can participate in Medicare, and that Obama’s law does nothing to change that. The law also does not change what medications or medical services are covered by Medicare, she said.

And while the Medicare advisory board is to recommend changes, said Friedland, "the notion that this is somehow the government taking over your medical decisions or options is like saying employers are taking over your medical decisions by shopping for a better health insurance plan -- it does affect you; but it is hardly a case of your employer taking over your decisions."

With regard to a single-payer health care system, Biles said a single-payer system -- sometimes known as "Medicare for all," a term Baldwin has used -- could increase the number of health care providers available to patients, given that the vast majority of providers accept Medicare patients.

Sofaer said that with the federal government paying for all health care, the government theoretically "would have a huge amount of control over, in particular, what services were covered and which were not."

But "in our form of government, with power divided in so many ways, I suspect it will be very difficult indeed for a federal program to be so authoritarian with respect to something as personal as medical care," she said. "In practical terms, it would not happen."

Our rating

Thompson said Baldwin supports a law "in which government will take over your decisions on medicine, on doctors and on hospitals."

He provides no evidence that Obama’s health care reform law would bring about such a change, and offers only speculation that such a change would occur under a single-payer system. Experts were unpersuaded by his claim.

We rate Thompson’s statement False.