Is Politico Shilling For Conservatives For Patients Rights?

scottpic.jpgToday, Politico publishes the third, in what seems to be a series of soft profiles of Conservatives for Patient’s Rights — that right-wing smear campaign dedicated to unraveling the Democrats’ reform agenda. CPR is very well becoming the GOP alternative to the Democratic proposal, and as such it elicits legitimate news interest.

But since the group is actively advertising on Politico’s website, the publication’s uncritical treatment of the Swift Boat Health Attack Group raises certain ethical concerns. While the paper did publish an Editor’s Note revealing that “Conservatives for Patients’ Rights purchased advertising space on for this campaign” at the bottom of one article, its latest profile does not inform readers of the potential conflict of interest.

Today’s piece by Carrie Budoff Brown describes Scott as “a conservative health care champion” and cheerfully reports that Conservatives for Patients Rights will soon release a documentary “illustrating what he describes as the perils of public health care in Great Britain and Canada” that will ‘most likely’ make it “into TV ads” (and future Politico stories, to be sure).

Brown dives into Scott’s fantasy world without so much as informing the reader that the Democratic health care plans have only limited resemblance to the British or Canadian systems. She clearly defines Scott in his own terms — as a crusader for “choice, competition, accountability and personal responsibility” and helps Scott conflate health care reform with the problems of Great Britain’s system by reporting that Scott’s aides are circulating an article in which Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for conditions at a government-owned hospital (again, without explaining how conditions at a British hospital relate to current reform proposals).

The irony of all this is striking, and it strikes Brown over the head. The Wonk Room has previously reported that as a hospital executive, Scott limited “choice” and “competition” by buying up “hospitals by the bucketful” and routinely placed profits ahead of “accountability” or quality of care. During Scott’s tenure at Columbia/HCA, his cost cutting methods threatened patient care and safety:

– Susan Marks, a technician at one of Scott’s hospitals, was forced to monitor 72 heart monitors by herself. Marks explained, “I have to. I’ve been told you either do it, or there’s the door.” [ABC News, 9/26/97]

– Scott downsized nursing staffs, created conditions where “babies were attended as infrequently as every three hours. Once, the only nurse caring for seven ill infants was so busy she failed to hear an alarm when a baby stopped breathing. A parent dashed to the baby and stimulated breathing, the state report said.” [New York Times, 5/11/97]

– Hospital workers in Florida complained, “gloves come in only one size, and rip easily.” In addition, California employees protested “filthy conditions,” and being “stretched to the limit” as Scott’s company slashed “the ratio of nurses to patients.” [Money Driven Medicine, pg. 119]

But Brown seems taken in by Scott’s “soft-spoken” style and in the vanilla-flavored interview that follows the write up, she asks him where Democrats could concede on the public health plan option, playfully presses him to identify his donors and pitches an open-ended question about his background as a hospital executive.

By any measure, Scott’s multi-million dollar investment in online advertising is legitimizing his group and their criticisms. And Politico is helping in more ways than one.