Billionaire, presidential candidate, and debate-stage avoider Michael Bloomberg is spending an obscene amount of money on TV ads: More than $220 million since entering the race in late November. One of these ads claims that the former New York City mayor helped hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers get health insurance.
The 60-second ad goes like this:
A nurse says:
“I’ve been a nurse in New York for 30 years. I know the difference leadership can make, because I saw what Mike Bloomberg did as mayor.”
A male announcer says:
“Mayor Bloomberg helped lower the number of uninsured people by 40 percent, covering 700,000 more New Yorkers. Life expectancy increased. He helped expand health coverage to 200,000 more kids and upgraded pediatric care. Infant mortality rates dropped to record lows. And as mayor, Mike Bloomberg always championed reproductive health for women.”
Back to the nurse:
“When you hear Mike Bloomberg on healthcare…you should know: He did it as mayor, he’ll get it done as president.”
People who see this ad might think to themselves, Wow that's really impressive for a mayor. Yeah, a little too impressive, as it turns out.
A Politifact/Kaiser Health News fact-check of the TV ad notes that while the numbers cited are accurate, Bloomberg is taking too much credit for his role in the positive changes in New York City. Why? Because state-level policies drove most of the improvements.
Bloomberg was mayor from 2002 to 2013. During that time, then-governor Eliot Spitzer expanded eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the state also expanded eligibility for Medicaid, which helped more adults get health insurance.
As Elisabeth Benjamin, vice president of health initiatives for Community Service Society, an anti-poverty advocacy group in New York City, told Politifact, "Every single thing―the 700,000, and the 200,000, all of that―is directly related to state policy changes."
Yes, as the Bloomberg campaign told Politifact, his administration did help spread the word about the health insurance offerings—it advertised the Medicaid program, offered online help to people without insurance, and made it easier to pass out pamphlets about insurance options—but that's basically helping promote someone else's plan.
Sherry Glied, a health economist and dean at New York University, acknowledged that while the city played a role in getting more people covered, "The city couldn’t have done it without the state."
As for whether Bloomberg can take credit for life expectancy increasing during his tenure, there's literally no way to know if it had anything to do with more people getting insurance or his policies of banning Big Gulps or was simply the result of healthier people moving to the city. "This is not a randomized experiment. There was no control New York City," Glied told Politifact.
In short, the ad is misleading at best.
As for Bloomberg's healthcare agenda in the 2020 campaign, he supports building on the Affordable Care Act and creating a government-run, Medicare-like "public option" health insurance that people could buy. This kind of plan does not achieve universal coverage, meaning not every American would be covered.
Yet in the same TV ad Bloomberg himself says, "This is America. We can certainly afford to make sure that everybody that needs to see a doctor can see a doctor, everybody that needs medicines to stay healthy can get those medicines."
When contacted for comment about this contradiction, a spokesperson for the Bloomberg campaign said, "Mike's plans are outcomes-focused, and the goal is for everyone to be covered. That will happen over time. Mike's plans are practical and achievable, so his focus is on what can be accomplished now. Then, he will build on that success to achieve the desired outcomes."
Just a great, not-misleading ad, all around.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.