Nonpartisan PolitiFact: Ad attacking Bredesen on backing 'single-payer' health care system 'mostly false'

Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen speaks at a summit on the opioid crisis put on by Healthy Tennessee, Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. Bredesen said Friday that his first action in the U.S. Senate would be to file or co-sponsor legislation to repeal a 2016 law criticized for weakening federal authority to curb opioid distribution. The announcement sought to put his opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, on the spot for supporting the law. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

NASHVILLE - The nonpartisan political organization PolitiFact is rating as "mostly false" a television and digital attack ad launched last week by the Senate Leadership Fund against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen.

The Republican super PAC, formed by allies of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, charges in its $1.2 million ad buy that the former Tennessee governor backs a "single-payer" health care system that "amounts to a government take over."

"Phil Bredesen is on record supporting single-payer health care," a female narrator says in the 30-second spot. "He even wrote a book pushing socialized medicine."

The ad shows a copy of Bredesen's 2010 book "Fresh Medicine: How to Fix Reform and Build a Sustainable Health Care System."

Bredesen, who is vying with Republican Marsha Blackburn in the Nov. 6 election to replace retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Chattanooga, told The Lebanon Democrat in an interview during the summer he's "not for single-payer [insurance], particularly."

"That has become a catchword that a lot of things fall under," the newspaper reported. "What I think we need to have is something that gives basic insurance so no one is left out. If people want more or want to work for a company that provides more, then they have a way of doing that.'"

PolitiFact notes Bredesen's book outlined a plan "that would give every American a voucher that they could use to buy basic health coverage - not from a traditional insurance company but from newly created 'systems of care.'"

The vouchers would be funded from a payroll tax of about 20 percent. Providers would redeem the voucher money from the government, but the federal government would not be paying claims as it does under Medicaid and Medicare.

"Bredesen today says he opposes single-payer health care," PolitiFact notes.

Among other things, the Senate Leadership Fund cites an Oct. 20, 2010, interview on C-SPAN in which Bredesen said "single-payer, the federal government collecting the money and then turning it over, I mean, that's what I think actually we should do. Single-payer in the sense of Medicare, where government is collecting the money and then is paying all the claims, I think would be a disastrous direction for the country."

"In that one answer," PolitiFact says, "Bredesen used the term single-payer two different ways, and had totally opposite takes on each."

The PAC's ad cited another example in which Bredesen "redefined Medicare for All, a popular shorthand for single-payer care."

Bredesen told Governing magazine in 2010 that "what I was proposing was really a two-piece thing. It's Medicare for All, but give people a voucher and limit the amount of it. I don't think you can solve it by leaving it as an open-ended entitlement."

According to PolitiFact, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has proposed a "Medicare for All" program that "would provide soup-to-nuts care for everything that is 'medically necessary.' From family doctors, to prescription drugs, to long-term care, Medicare for All would cover it."

"Importantly," PolitiFact said of Sanders' idea, "every American of any age would be eligible and the government would pay doctors, hospitals and every other type of provider. That means no vouchers."

PolitiFact said under Bredesen's proposal the government would "determine how much a standard basket of care would cost, give everyone a voucher for that amount and let them pick the network they liked best. The network would know that the voucher is all it would get for each person, unless that person chose to pay for more coverage him or herself."

PolitiFact said policy researchers "find telling differences between Bredesen's ideas and single-payer plans as they are proposed today.

"The ad obscures some very important details and misleads voters on Bredesen's stance," PolitiFact said. "We rate this claim 'Mostly False.'"

Contact Andy Sher at or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.