Sickly Rebuttals in Defense of Big-Government Medicine

In a Thursday "Caucus" post by David Herszenhorn, "A Senator Offers Two Faces in Health Care Debate," the reporter attempted to fact check claims about the dangers of socialized medicine made on the Senate floor by Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But Herszenhorn's rebuttal was itself pretty sickly.

If the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has his way, two faces of the debate over American health care reform will be Shona Holmes of Ontario, Canada, and Bruce Hardy, of Ruislip, England.

Both Ms. Holmes and Mr. Hardy were denied care under their government-run health insurance programs. Ms. Holmes needed surgery for a cyst in her brain that was threatening her eyesight, and Mr. Hardy wanted an expensive new cancer drug.

Mr. McConnell is effective in framing policy debates on the Senate floor, and with comprehensive health legislation now at the center of attention in Congress, he has used his morning speeches this week to talk almost entirely about that issue.

After reminding readers that McConnell "led the Republican's successful effort to block money for closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay...a huge political victory for Republicans," Herszenhorn readied his pair of gotchas:

"Medical decisions should be made by doctors and patients," Mr. McConnell said on Thursday. "But once the government is in control, politicians and bureaucrats will be the ones telling people what kind of care they can have."

He then went on to recount Mr. Hardy's effort to secure a new cancer drug. "The government bureaucrats who run Britain's health care system denied the treatment, saying the drug was too expensive," he said. "The government decided that Bruce Hardy's life wasn't worth it."

What Mr. McConnell did not mention was that the government reversed its decision and provided the medication.

Mr. Hardy, who was featured in a front page article in The New York Times in December, and his wife, Joy, paid $11,500 for two months of treatment with Sutent, a drug made by Pfizer, before the government's National Institute for Clinical Health and Effectiveness decided to approve the drug.

The Republican leader also laid out the case of Ms. Holmes, who has become a fierce opponent of the Canadian health system and now works partly as a public advocate against government-run health care in the United States, in op-ed pieces, interviews and speeches.

"Here's how Shona described her plight: 'If I'd relied on my government, I'd be dead,' " Mr. McConnell said. "Shona's life was eventually saved because she came to the United States for the care she needed."

What Mr. McConnell did not disclose was that Ms. Holmes paid for her treatment, at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, on her own - an option that is available to patients with financial resources all over the world regardless of their nation's health insurance system.

That's it?

Neither of McConnell's statements are untrue and both are well within the bounds of congressional rhetoric: The British health care system did initially deny Bruce Hardy treatment, and if Shona Holmes had relied on the Canadian government, she would not have gotten her treatment. Would a liberal senator's claims of cost-savings through government health care be subject to similar niggling scrutiny by a Times reporter?