Anti-Medicare for All ad campaign launches in South Carolina

By Holly Otterbein and Maya King

A healthcare industry alliance has quietly launched a six-figure ad campaign in South Carolina that appears aimed at thwarting Bernie Sanders’ momentum ahead of Saturday’s primary election.

The Partnership for America’s Healthcare Future (PAHCF), a consortium of pharmaceutical, hospital and health insurance lobbyists, purchased over $200,000 in TV ads to run in Charleston and Columbia media markets Tuesday through Saturday. The ads, which began running during Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, underline the message that Medicare for All, the Medicare buy-in and the public option are costly and ineffective in practice.

“These one-size-fits all government health insurance systems could double everyone’s income taxes,” one ad says, warning that the policy puts more than half of the country’s rural healthcare facilities at risk of closing. “Millions of American families could lose their employer provided coverage...you pay more to wait longer for worse care.”

In another ad, a mother warns against “new government-controlled health insurance systems politicians are pushing,” saying “it’s time to build on what’s working and fix what’s broken, not start over.”

The ads join a chorus of opposition among moderate Democrats, who have slammed Medicare for All and Sanders, saying his policy would force citizens to accept an expensive health insurance plan they may not want without the option of keeping their private provider. Pete Buttigieg is running an anti-Medicare for All TV ad in South Carolina this week that criticizes Sanders directly. Amy Klobuchar also purchased healthcare-related ads in Nevada that underlined her plan to lower insurance premiums and criticized her opponents' plans as a “pipe dream that risks your financial future.”

“As a former health insurance executive, I can tell you that the massive popularity of Medicare for All in these early states would have been my worst nightmare because it threatens billions in profits for corporate executives,” said Wendell Potter, former head of communications at Cigna who is now president of Business for Medicare for All and Medicare for All NOW!, in a statement to POLITICO. “To protect the current system that puts corporate profits over patient care, the healthcare industry will launch the mother of all propaganda campaigns, and this last-ditch spending effort in South Carolina is a key part.”

PACHF, whose members include Ascension, Ardent and the American Senior Alliance, has spent millions of dollars on anti-Medicare for All advertising in early primary states. It shelled out over $1.2 million in Iowa ahead of the caucus and over $900,000 and $150,000 in the Super Tuesday states of Virginia and North Carolina, respectively, according to Advertising Analytics. The organization has also spent an additional several hundred thousand dollars on digital ads with similar messaging.

Still, Medicare for All remains a popular policy option among Democratic voters, according to early state exit polls. In Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, six out of 10 voters supported single payer. Medicare for All’s popularity has also fueled Sanders’ campaign, as he has made his role in drafting the legislation a cornerstone of his campaign.

“The health insurance industry is getting nervous because they see a candidate who calls them out on their greed,” said Mike Casca, communications director for the Sanders campaign. “[We’re] building the kind of movement to take them on and win.”