Senate Republicans' Lamest Attack Yet

February 08, 2012 3:01 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK), Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and eight of their GOP colleagues have come up with the lamest complaint about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act yet: They're upset — or pretending to be upset — that the Department of Health and Human Services touts "free" care available to patients as a result of the law.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the senators write:

We write today to express our serious concerns that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are falsely marketing specific services provided through Medicare and private health plans as "free" due to the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). [...]

Reports, press releases, and statements published by HHS and CMS have repeatedly called preventative services provided by Medicare "free." [...]

Calling these services "free" is highly misleading. While it is true that these preventative services are available without co-pays to seniors due to the changes in medicare in PPACA, because there is no such thing as a free lunch, these provisions are not free. They are paid for by taxpayers who fund a large chunk of the medicare program directly through paying general tax revenues. [...]

We find it highly ironic that last year you sent a very public letter to insurers attacking their supposed "misinformation," yet you continue to approve such misleading communications materials for HHS and CMS.

Even for Coburn and Hatch, this is remarkably inane. The references to free preventive care they complain about obviously mean that the care is — as they acknowledge — free to patients, not free to the government, or that nobody anywhere pays for them in any way. That's a standard use of the term "free" — free to the recipient. How standard? Well, here's Tom Coburn using the word that way in his October 25, 2011, "Pork Report":

Welfare for the wealthy: Federal program provides free meals regardless of family income. 

By the (nonsensical) standard Coburn set in his letter to Sebelius, this statement is misleading. Those meals aren't free; they are "paid for by taxpayers." It is "highly ironic" that Coburn would send a "very public letter" to Sebelius attacking her "misleading communications materials" when he himself has used precisely the same word in precisely the same way.

When Coburn, Hatch, and their colleagues are done mindlessly nitpicking HHS' use of the word "free," maybe they'll turn their attention to the nation's grocery stores, which for years have gotten away with highly misleading "Buy One, Get One Free" advertising. In order to avoid the wrath of these very serious senators, grocers should probably go ahead and change their signs to read "Buy One, Get One Subsidized By Your Purchase Of The First Item, As Well As Other Purchases You Make Now That We've Lured You Into The Store, Not To Mention The Purchases Of Your Fellow Shoppers, Past, Present, And Future."