Maybe Republicans Prefer “The Fonz” to Pitch Reform

August 4, 2010

Five U.S. Senators are taking issue with a new TV commercial featuring Andy Griffith touting the benefits of federal health reform to seniors. The issue, they say, is not the messenger, but instead, how the campaign was funded.

Five U.S. Senators are taking issue with a new TV commercial featuring Andy Griffith touting the benefits of federal health reform to seniors. The issue, they say, is not the messenger, but instead, how the campaign was funded.

In a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Sens. Tom Coburn and John Barrasso - both physicians - joined Richard Burr, John McCain, and John Thune in scolding the Obama Administration for allegedly spending $700,000 to produce the down-home commercial with the star of “Matlock” and “The Andy Griffith Show” telling seniors how great the changes in Medicare will be.

The five congressmen are asking that the commercial cease airing “immediately” and that the U.S. Treasury be repaid for any taxpayer funds used for the commercial.

“We believe this ad is a clear violation of the spirit of federal laws that prohibit use of taxpayer dollars for campaign purposes,” the letter reads. “The justification for this ad … demonstrates the clear political motivation for the ad.”

Citing a White House source, the congressmen say the Obama Administration’s efforts to clear up “misinformation” fed to seniors about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is clearly a political move and one using federal taxpayer funds at that.

Now to me, the commercial is pretty harmless. Everyone loves Andy Griffith. I mean, c’mon, the top law enforcer in Mayberry and the toughest attorney in Georgia to wear the same gray suit in court every week would not lead us astray. I don’t know how much Mr. Griffith got paid to deliver the message, but I think Republicans are grasping at straws here.

We all - physicians included - have questions about how federal health reform will impact us and seniors especially will be impacted greatly by Medicare and Medicaid changes already in place, and more down the line. I see no harm in Andy Griffith talking to them about what this means to them at all.

Perhaps the five Republicans are not Nick at Nite watchers; perhaps they thought Mayberry would be better served under Barney Fife’s watchful eye, who knows? Something tells me John McCain is more of a “ Happy Days,” Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli-type of personality, perhaps Barasso, who represents Wyoming, would have preferred someone from “Gunsmoke.”

The bottom line is with HHS and the federal government trying their best to address health literacy, i.e. explaining to patients what the heck their doctor is saying in plain English, education is a big part of understanding what lays ahead for Americans seeking medical care, including the millions who will have health insurance for the first time in a long time.

Might I suggest a truly bipartisan approach and have perhaps the finest fictional doctor, Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce of “M*A*S*H,” deliver the next message on reform to the American public. I think his brash style is just what we need to get our hands around reform and I’m sure Alan Alda would cut the federal government a break on his fee.

The point is, American people these days have more trust in fictional characters than real politicians, so however we deliver the message, we need to get people to listen and get involved in reforming healthcare.