Special Report

Expand Government-Run Health Care Week

Brought to you since 2003 by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other opponents of consumer choice.

By 5.3.05

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Sunday was the kickoff for the 2005 "Cover the Uninsured Week" (CTUW). Because it includes groups like the Chamber of Commerce and American Medical Association and has Gerald Ford as one of its honorary co-chairs, CTUW's organizers are able to claim it is a "nonpartisan" event comprised of "individuals and organizations from every sector of society...join[ing] together to tell our leaders that health care coverage for all Americans must be their top priority." But that is little more than window dressing. CTUW is a platform for advocates of universal -- i.e., government-run -- health care.

Among the backers are unions like the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is on record as supporting a single-payer system. SEIU at one point supported the late Senator Paul Wellstone's plan for universal coverage and now has an offshoot called Americans for Health Care that supports all sorts of state government meddling in health care.

Other national partners in CTUW include the AARP, whose 2005 Policy Book states, "The public, through the federal and state governments, has the ultimate responsibility to develop a system that ensures universal access to health care coverage for all individuals....The government should establish a minimum, adequate, defined package of benefits to which all individuals are entitled." Another partner is the National Medical Association, an association of African-American physicians, which "supports the provision of Universal Health Insurance Coverage for all individuals and families." There is also Families USA, which advocates for more money for programs like Medicaid and disparages market-based alternatives like tax credits and Health Savings Accounts.

The prime mover behind CTUW is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Robert Wood Johnson built the health care giant Johnson and Johnson, and in 1972 his bequest established the foundation that bears his name. It is one of the largest foundations in the nation, with its latest tax return showing more than $8 billion in assets. Its health-care agenda could hardly be clearer. "[I]insofar as achieving universal coverage," wrote former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Steven Schroeder, "government functions as a legitimate public servant....Given the potential importance of government in financing and implementing any significant health insurance expansion, public attitudes about the validity of government's role pose a significant barrier to decreasing the number of uninsured." The legislative tracker on the CTUW website gives one a sense of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's priorities. Although there are entries for tax credits, they are at the bottom of the page, preceded by proposals to expand health care via Medicaid, Medicare, COBRA, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and "new public programs."

In 2003, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation launched the first CTUW. Since then it has grown to include numerous sponsors and participants, with events in every state in the nation. Other foundations now contribute considerable sums to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for CTUW, including the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which donated $300,000 in 2003, and the California Endowment, which has donated over $1.8 million since 2003.

Indeed, there is an interlocking web of funding among the foundations and groups participating in CTUW. The AFL-CIO's Working for America Institute received $25,000 from the California Endowment in 2002. Since 2001 the National Medical Association has received over $650,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Since 1999 Families USA has received more than $1 million from the California Endowment, over $5.3 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and over $7.3 million from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has also given over $4.8 million to the AARP, $350,000 to the Service Employees International Union, and over $397,000 to the Healthcare Leadership Council, another partner of CTUW.

You will hear a lot about solutions to the uninsured during CTUW. But one approach you won't here much of is "consumer-driven health care." Indeed, a search yields no hits for the term "consumer driven" on the CTUW website. That reveals the lack of interest that most CTUW organizers have in market-based solutions. While CTUW may sound nice, don't be fooled. Many of its organizers are using it to expand government control over health care.

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About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.