PoliGraph: Ad from Coleman’s group goes a step too far on Medicare

Rick Nolan’s first stint in Congress is turning into a reliable campaign theme in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District.

A new ad paid for by the American Action Network, a Washington D.C.-based organization co-founded by former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, brings up part of Nolan’s record from when he represented Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District between 1975 and 1980.

“Medicare. To us a sacred promise we rely on,” the ad, titled “Dangerous,” states as ominous music plays in the background. “But to Rick Nolan, Medicare is outdated, in the way of his radical ideas.”

“In the 70s, Nolan backed a bill to replace Medicare with a European-style health program. Under Nolan’s plan, Medicare would have ended all together,” the ad states.

AAN’s facts are correct. But the ad implies that Nolan wants to take coverage away from seniors all together. That’s misleading.

The Evidence

AAN’s ad refers to a bill introduced repeatedly by a duo of Democratic Senators in the early and mid 1970s. Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Rep. James Corman of California, were both proponents of a universal health care plan that would have covered everyone in the United States, old and young, rich and poor.

In 1976, the Economist, a magazine based in the United Kingdom, wrote about the plan saying that it would “sweep away much of the present system, under which the bulk of Americans rely on private health insurance, with Medicaid for the poor and Medicare (federal health insurance) for the old.”

Under the Kennedy-Corman plan, insurance costs would have been covered by a trust fund padded by payroll tax revenue and government dollars. Among other competing health care plan overhauls, the Kennedy-Corman plan was “closest to the British model” in that it would have created a single, government-run insurance program, the Economist explained.

Single-payer insurance is a characteristic shared by many European countries, as well as Canada.

But despite then-candidate Jimmy Carter’s endorsement of a proposal similar to Kennedy and Corman’s, the effort fizzled toward the end of the 1970s over complaints that are familiar today: the Kennedy-Corman plan was too expensive and relied on government too much.

Where did Nolan stand in all of this?

In 1975 and 1977, Nolan was among a handful of lawmakers who co-sponsored the House version of the Kennedy-Corman bill, according to the Library of Congress.

And Nolan has never made his support for a single-payer health care system a secret. In a questionnaire published by the Brainerd Dispatch last month, Nolan said he believes the health care system must be reformed and that public health insurance option would help lower health care costs, but that a “single payer national health insurance is the best long term solution.”

All that said, this ad might leave some viewers with the impression that Nolan supported a bill that would have left seniors hanging on health care coverage and that Nolan opposes Medicare.

Neither is the case.

The Kennedy-Corman bill would have created a single system for everyone, including seniors.

And Nolan believes that Medicare is important, said his campaign chairman Jim Swiderski.

“Under no circumstances will Rick favor a reduction of benefits for either Social Security or Medicare,” Swiderski wrote in an email. “There are ways to reform these programs without abandoning the sick and elderly or turning these programs over to Wall Street or private insurance companies, unaccountable to the taxpayers.”

The Verdict

It’s true that Nolan once co-sponsored a bill that would have created a single-payer health insurance system much like those in Europe. That plan would have done away with the current Medicare system, too because it would have put seniors into the larger system.

But it’s important to view AAN’s claim with context. First, the proposal Nolan supported would have applied to everyone, including the elderly. Further, Nolan doesn’t want to take coverage away from seniors as the ad implies.

As a result, this ad leans toward misleading.


The American Action Network, “Dangerous,” Sept. 17, 2012

The Economist, Whatever happened to health insurance, January 3, 1976 (Subscription only)

The Washington Post, Health Insurance Bill: ’78 Introduction Seen as Gesture, by Lawrence Meyer, January 6, 1978, (Subscription only)

Kaiser Health News, Timeline of Kennedy’s Health Care Achievements And Disappointments, Sept. 17, 2010

Roll Call, The History of Health Care Reform

Four Times This Century Presidents Have Tried and Failed to Implement National Health Care Reform. Yale Professor Ted Marmor Explains How Not to Repeat Their Mistakes, By Ted Marmor, July 19, 1993 (Subscription only)

THOMAS, S. 3, The Health Security Act, accessed Sept. 19, 2012

THOMAS, HR 21, Health Security Act, accessed Sept. 19, 2012

THOMAS, HR 5657, Health Security Act, accessed Sept. 19, 2012

PBS, Health Care Systems: The Four Basic Models, accessed Sept. 18, 2012

The Brainerd Dispatch, Eighth Congressional District DFL: Richard Nolan, August 10, 2012

Email exchange, Brook Hougesen, spokeswoman, American Action Network, Sept. 18, 2012

Email exchange, Jim Swiderski, campaign chair, Rick Nolan for Congress, Sept. 18, 2012

  • Jamie


    (Yes, I know that using all caps makes it look like you’re shouting.)

    It is utterly incomprehensible how you can come to that wishy-washy, uncritical, BIASED conclusion, even after your own arguments about the ad.

    American Action Network is LYING about Nolan, plain and simple.

    And this is the group that Capitol View wrote a practically fawning story about last week (after which one astute commenter wrote something like “…another lie-making machine”).

  • John Ferman

    I hope this fact-check gets very wide circulation in the First district where the voters are. AAN’s ad is a pure smear.

  • John Ferman

    I owe an apology. Rick is runnibg in Minnesota’s 8th district and I got the numbering wrong.

  • Jamie

    This fact check looks at only one of several lies in the ad, including one that has been used against Obama and has been de-bunked and called pants-on-fire and otherwise shown to be false. Why does MPR choose only one lie to check on?