Political Animal


August 18, 2011 4:20 PM Remember chickens for checkups?

By Steve Benen

Sen. Tom Coburn (R) made some pretty striking comments at an event in Oklahoma yesterday, most notably about President Obama and race. Greg Sargent has a transcript of the relevant portion and some strong analysis that worth checking out. I’d just say that the senator’s implication that the president intends to “create dependence” on government, because of his background as an “African-American male,” is at best breathtakingly tone-deaf, and at worst, is strikingly racist.

But there was something else that caught my eye in the same report from the Tulsa World.

He went on to say that government programs such as Medicare are primarily responsible for rapidly rising health-care costs, and that Medicare has made the medical system worse.

“You can’t tell me the system is better now than it was before Medicare,” he said.

Coburn agreed that some people received poor care — or no care — before Medicare was enacted in the 1960s, but said communities worked together to make sure most people received needed medical attention.

He also conceded that doctors and hospitals often went unpaid for their efforts, or accepted baked goods or chickens in partial payment.

Yes, “chickens for checkups” is back!

Now, the comments are not an exact quote, and as far as I can tell, there’s no video or audio of Coburn’s remarks. But if the report is accurate, it reflects a rather bizarre worldview.

Coburn thinks the health care system is worse as a result of Medicare? The only way this makes sense is if one takes far-right political philosophy more seriously than medical care for seniors. Indeed, the senator seemed to acknowledge that the elderly went with inadequate care before the program, but said seniors would get by on the kindness of communities.

The idea of neighbors helping neighbors certainly sounds very nice. But when we’re talking about the elderly who can’t afford private care, can’t work and get employer-based insurance, and are asked to get by without Medicare, I’m hard pressed to imagine what Coburn thinks the “community” should do. What if some senior citizens don’t know their neighbors well? What if their neighbors are facing financial difficulties of their own, and can’t afford to chip in for their medical care?

And, of course, I’m especially impressed with Coburn’s idea that medical professionals who treat the elderly should occasionally just go without compensation — or perhaps just accept chickens the way they did in the good ol’ days.

I’d love to hear how many of Coburn’s Republican colleagues agree with his health care worldview. Maybe someone should ask them.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • hells littlest angel on August 18, 2011 4:27 PM:

    Alan Grayson was right.

  • sublime33 on August 18, 2011 4:29 PM:

    "Coburn thinks the health care system is worse as a result of Medicare".

    In Coburn's eyes, he is absolutely correct. Tom Coburn now has to wait in line longer at the doctor's office because other patients in his waiting room are getting a subsidy. In the old days, if they couldn't afford the doctor's bill, they just sat home and suffered or died. This is consistent with the Bible, which says nothing about Jesus treating the uninsured.

  • Gummo on August 18, 2011 4:30 PM:

    Coburn agreed that some people received poor care or no care before Medicare was enacted in the 1960s, but said communities worked together to make sure most people received needed medical attention.

    Oh, yes, I remember when I was just a lad in the 1960s how the old lady next door used to come a'knocking on our door, asking if we would mind performing hip surgery on her. Sweet thing even brought over her own bone saw and a complete set of Ginsu knives. Sadly, we had to beg off but I'm sure the plumber down the block was able to help her.

    *bangs head repeatedly on desk*

  • pol on August 18, 2011 4:31 PM:

    And this guy is a medical doctor (although an obstetrician...)?

    Also, according to Jonathan Alter (The Promise: President Obama, Year One), Coburn and Obama are friends. Some friend.

  • pgbach on August 18, 2011 4:32 PM:

    Me thinks it is time to explore Colburn's practice.... how many Medicare, Medicaid dollars did he accept?

  • Anonymous on August 18, 2011 4:34 PM:

    Steve continues to ignore the rightwingcapitalistgault definition of "better". To Coburn and his ilk things are better when the health corporations and insurance companies are making the maximum amount of money they possibly can. Anything that reduces their intake of cash makes things worse. Thus, things are worse now because Medicare and medicaid prevent the Medical Industrial Corporate Complex from sucking every last penny out from people who are lucky enough to qualify.

    It has absolutely nothing to do with the delivery, quality or distribution of health care

  • DAY on August 18, 2011 4:34 PM:

    "Communities" are a quaint concept from bygone days. Like Mayberry, Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver. Where all illness was treated (at your house) by Marcus Welby, MD.

  • Joe Friday on August 18, 2011 4:35 PM:

    "He went on to say that government programs such as Medicare are primarily responsible for rapidly rising health-care costs"

    Except that medical costs under Medicare are rising SLOWER than medical costs in private-sector healthcare.

    OOPS !

    The major problem for not-for-profit Medicare is that it is purchasing medical care from a bloated greedy for-profit private-sector healthcare industry.

  • Diane Rodriguez on August 18, 2011 4:35 PM:

    When Tom talks about all that "community support" I bet he means the church ladies that bring casseroles after somebody dies from the illness that they couldn't get treated. That's where the chicken comes in. It is most often followed by talk about how the funeral was "nice" and how Mrs. so and so looked like she was sleeping.

  • puravida on August 18, 2011 4:36 PM:

    I'm sure the good Senator wouldn't object to a little brain surgery performed on him by his neighbor.

  • ameshall on August 18, 2011 4:42 PM:

    Heaven help me, but I frigging hate these delusional hacks. How many pot pies, chickens, or zucchinis would it take for an oncologist to agree to treat a patient with advanced colon cancer? I don't know. What's the "food stuff" equivalent of $196,000? Similarly, how many chocolate chip cookies would the neighborhood kids have to sell to finance Aunt Molly's heart transplant? At 50 cents a piece, that's about 600,000 cookies. Sounds like a plan.

    The GOP's "Little House on the Prairie" plan for health care is a joke.

  • June on August 18, 2011 4:42 PM:

    It's disturbing that Republicans are feeling so comfortable these days in saying openly bigoted/racist things. I guess they feel it is "their time" again.

  • T2 on August 18, 2011 4:45 PM:

    yes June. When the say they want to "take our country back", they mean take it back to the Confederate States of America.

  • Unstable Isotope on August 18, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Those Coburn remarks have to be popular with absolutely nobody. He's asking doctors to accept less money and he's asking seniors to go without care. I'm sure his idea of having bake sales to pay for grandma's hip replacement surgery is a great one.

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like Coburn thinks everything will be better if only rich, healthy people get treatment.

  • Ray Waldren on August 18, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Now, the comments are not an exact quote, and as far as I can tell, theres no video or audio of Coburns remarks.

    There might be, but it depends what he said and where.

    From Tulsa
    Senator Coburn (R-OK) Holds Town Hall Meeting -- "Before a crowd of 150 in his home state, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn (R) held a town hall meeting and addressed the current Presidential race, the handling of U.S. finances, and the "super committee's" upcoming task. He also took questions from the audience.

    During the town hall, Coburn outlined a number of issues that he believes require immediate attention, including the wealthy paying more for the country to have confidence in the economy along with the deal approved by Congress and Pres. Obama to cut the nations deficit while also raising the debt ceiling.

    The Senator later repeated a campaign pledge that he would not run for a third Senate term in 2016."

    at a Muskogee Baptist Church "Town Hall" -- there is a video playlist of that meeting:


  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 18, 2011 4:48 PM:

    The Republicans should have their own TEEVEE show . Are you smarter than a Republican? The contestants will all win because for sure most ferns and pond scum are smarter than a Republican

  • Cathie from Canada on August 18, 2011 4:51 PM:

    Whenever I start thinking that Canadians and Americans are basically alike, I read a comment like this one.
    Even the most far-right Canadian politician you could imagine would not suggest that Canadians would be better off without medicare. It is deeply embedded in Canadian thinking to expect our governments to act collectively to our benefit (ie, schools, police, medicare, roads, etc) though we argue about priorities; Americans just don't seem to have the same expectations.

  • kevo on August 18, 2011 4:54 PM:

    Coburn would do well to realize his "thoughtful" talk should come from his mouth, not his derriere! -Kevo

  • Gummo on August 18, 2011 4:58 PM:

    It is deeply embedded in Canadian thinking to expect our governments to act collectively to our benefit (ie, schools, police, medicare, roads, etc) though we argue about priorities; Americans just don't seem to have the same expectations.

    [ruefully] We used to.

  • A Warren on August 18, 2011 4:59 PM:

    "communities worked together to make sure most people received needed medical attention."

    Hmmm. Sounds vaguely socialistic to me. He probably is harkening back to the days of county hospitals that were funded by tax dollars to serve the citizens of the community. Perhaps he is confusing medicare with the privatization of community based hospitals.

  • Srose on August 18, 2011 5:00 PM:

    I believe Rand Paul had a comment or two on the slavery aspect of doctors being forced to treat those icky patients who didn't have private health insurance.

  • blondie on August 18, 2011 5:01 PM:

    Can we pay this bozo - and the other idiot Republican office-holders - in chickens? I've got a neighbor with a chicken coop, and I bet he wouldn't mind chipping in to help ...

  • Jilli on August 18, 2011 5:02 PM:

    Well, look on the bright side, at least this clown isn't still a practicing physician.

    I swear, I listen to these people and I wonder what planet we're living on? Just unbelievable.

  • dcsusie on August 18, 2011 5:05 PM:

    " When the say they want to "take our country back", they mean take it back to the Confederate States of America."

    Probably not quite fair. They just want to go back to the 1950's, when uppity n*ggers and pushy b*tches could easily be shoved back into their places, and there weren't hardly any of them other funny-colored people around, 'cept maybe in the laundries.

  • Eeyore on August 18, 2011 5:06 PM:

    This is the world Coburn wants to go back to:

    In the 1960's as the idea of Medicare was being debated, we had a discussion about this in my 9th grade social studies class. A girl I went to school with was the daughter of a rich doctor. She said that her dad thought that if old folks couldn't afford a doctor, that was their fault. When the social studies teacher asked her (rhetorically) whether old folks deserved to see a doctor in their old age, she replied something like "Dad says they should ask their Church for help."

  • simplx on August 18, 2011 5:06 PM:

    Arent *we* the community? And if we decide to tax ourselves to pay for grammys health care, isnt that the community helping grammy?

  • jzap on August 18, 2011 5:07 PM:

    ... theres no video or audio of Coburns remarks.

    Greg Sargent said that [Tulsa World reporter Randy] Krehbiel taped the episode.

  • Ron Byers on August 18, 2011 5:13 PM:

    I hate Captcha. I typed a good comment only to lose it to Captcha.

  • Goldilocks on August 18, 2011 5:16 PM:

    I come from a large medical family. Seven of my close relatives were doctors and surgeons, including my father. I studied and researched in Genetics and Population Ecology. I keep myself healthy with yoga, meditation, martial arts and occasional shiatsu and chiropractic treatment. I've also cured myself of a troublesome gallstone with Tibetan medicine. I'd say the total cost of my health care over the last twenty years is this side of $250. I am really fit.

    I never paid with a chicken. I have more respect for the life of a fellow sentient being than to sacrifice it to extend my own.

    What I have to say is that there are very effective ways of staying healthy that do not involve huge amounts of sophisticated technology. Okay, I had a serious accident once that needed bone reconstruction, which kind of knocks the bottom out of my point here - except that it happened in a country with a single-payer system, so it cost me nothing at the point of service.

    Traditional Chinese doctors got paid only while their patients stayed well. If a patient fell ill it was a sign that the doctor was not doing his job properly.

  • Danp on August 18, 2011 5:22 PM:

    Is this the same Tom Coburn who always blocks efforts to regulate or enforce food safety laws? What a gem?

  • ChristianPointOfView on August 18, 2011 5:28 PM:

    There is absolutely no need for Medicare! We Christians will take care of our own. The rest are going to hell and the sooner the better!

  • smartalek on August 18, 2011 5:30 PM:

    "And if we decide to tax ourselves to pay for grammy�s health care, isn�t that the community helping grammy?"

    Publican reply: Sure -- so long as it's YOU people taxing YOURselves... See, as long as you leave us productive white folks and our hard-earned money alone, we couldn't care less what y'all do among yourselves (well, except for two guys getting married, of course; that's just icky -- I get a cramp just thinking about it).

  • Texas Aggie on August 18, 2011 5:34 PM:

    Im hard pressed to imagine what Coburn thinks the community should do.

    That worked so well before Medicare, didn't it?

    The reason we have Medicare in the first place was because it didn't work at all. The same thing with food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, social security, and all the other parts of the safety net. We put them into place under government control because the private sector (churches and other philanthropies) was falling down on the job, and falling down badly.

  • Josef K on August 18, 2011 5:53 PM:

    Between Coburn and West, topping off Ryan earlier today, I'm starting to think no Republican officeholder over the age of 16 should be allowed out in public without a leash and muzzle.

    These guys are going to get themselves and/or a bunch of innocent bystanders killed through sheer stupidity.

  • jjm on August 18, 2011 6:28 PM:

    You said it in the previous item:

    "Over at Ten Miles Square, Rick Ungar points to a key health care reform development: the Affordable Care Act appears to be slowing down Medicare spending."

  • Ken on August 18, 2011 6:47 PM:

    Perhaps Coburn will be willing to accept his Congressional stipend in chickens, rather than dollars.

  • ohhenery on August 18, 2011 7:58 PM:

    The man seems to have a hole in his heart that will not mend. Rx: Appreciation elixir three times a day and dial back on the ceasar salads.

  • kevo on August 18, 2011 9:09 PM:

    Ron Byers - if the captcha bites you next time, when the error submission page appears, go up to the tool bar and immediately press the previous page icon. The page with your comments intact should appear. Then use the refresh icon in the captcha domain to serf different letterings until you come to one that isn't as NaSty AS thE LasT oNe!

    I've been bitten quite a bit, and such action has proven to preserve my text, such as it may be, to share with all of you thoughtful gentlepeople! -Kevo

  • Robert Waldmann on August 18, 2011 10:54 PM:

    Well Sen Coburn knows about problems since he did commit medicaid fraud. He sterilized a woman during an operation (and so could not get compensated by Medicaid, but rather than chicken out, he lied.

    The woman claims she didn't ask to be sterilized.

    But in any case, Coburn sure knows all about fraud in public social welfare programs.


    "court documents first reported this week by Salon.com show that Coburn withheld information about the sterilization in submitting a bill to Medicaid for a related procedure involving a troubled pregnancy because the Medicaid program does not cover the sterilization of anyone younger than 21. Coburn said he withheld the information to ensure the woman was reimbursed for the cost of removing the other fallopian tube in which a fetus was lodged."

    I really like the bit about lying to the CMS for the sake of the patient, since she was the one who would lose if Medicaid didn't pay Dr Coburn.

  • Deborah on August 18, 2011 10:55 PM:

    Next time I go to my doc, think I'll ask: clucks or bucks?

  • Kathryn on August 18, 2011 11:09 PM:

    Number one, comments about African-American male and dependence on system are hideous as well as bigoted, president will probably turn the other cheek which is wise I'm sure, me, I'd like to kick him in the n-ts!

    Number two, does anybody else remember when an older woman broke down crying at a town hall meeting Coburn held when recounting her need of medical care in the home for her brain damaged husband who needed 24 hour care? Coburn did the same song and dance about what's happened to the community, people use to take care of each other in the good old wagon train days. For that wisdom, he got a round of applause. It infuriated me, how in holy hell are friends and neighbors trying to survive with their own lives while helping supply nursing care to their poor brain damaged neighbor. Tom Coburn is a fool in both points number one and two. He does have some integrity regarding some aspects of the budget discussion but overall he's clueless about the needs of his fellow citizens. He needs to volunteer at the medical clinics in New Orleans and other cities where people wait for hours to be seen by a doctor. Doubt he'd do it and doubt it would make an impression if he did. Nothing seems to penetrate the skulls of these righties.

  • The Oracle on August 19, 2011 12:08 AM:

    For comedy, the Tea Party Republicans are a gift from heaven, a gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving. For our country, our economy, our nation's children, the Tea Party Republicans are a gift from hell, a gift that keeps on taking and taking and taking.

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  • Anonymous on August 19, 2011 8:30 AM:


    What I'd like to know is how many car dealers, country clubs and yacht dealers are willing to eschew government fiat money for live chicken broilers--that they would have to spend money, or some reasonable facsimile, to store, slaughter, process and market--perishable zucchini pies and suckling pigs.

  • Jose Padilla on August 19, 2011 9:32 AM:

    Our medical system represents a failure of the market. But for somebody like Coburn, the market can never fail. Only the government can fail. Therefore, the failure of the medical system must in some way be attributed to government. Medicare is good scapegoat. No reason to explain how Medicare has caused the medical system to fail. For people like Coburn mere assertion is enough. Milton Friedman started this when he came up with the notion that the Great Depression was caused by the Fed. Now, everytime there is a market failure, the conservatives trace it back back to the federal government (Great Recession caused by Fannie and Freddie) because it is absolutely essential that the market never be seen to fail.

  • Gov't Mule on August 19, 2011 12:45 PM:

    Steve: When Senator Coburn said that Medicare has made things WORSE, he really means that (for doctors like himself) he has to accept Medicare and can't make as much money. Talk about a self-serving comment. Can you believe this jerk was an Ob-Gyn, which is a very peculiar profession for someone who hates women.

  • MuddyLee on August 19, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Maybe Coburn should take a look at life expectancy figures now vs 1965 - for both whites and minorities. I don't know anyone who has benefited from Medicare coverage who would go back to the pre-Medicare days. Why does the "mainstream media" let republicans get away with outrageous lies like this? Coburn: Medicare is bad. DeMint: Obama is anti-American. Bachmann: a debt ceiling default would have been good. Perry: Fed chairman Bernanke is going to commit treasonous actions. Boehner: stock market crisis can be blamed on the Democrats who run Washington. And too many others to mention....

  • Gingerpye on August 19, 2011 2:07 PM:

    Someone should remind Coburn that there are a lot more seniors today and they're living a lot longer. Not to mention the greater complexity of medicine today. In the old days about all you could do for someone with advanced cancer or heart disease was make them comfortable. Today there are effective and very expensive treatments. To the extent that old people were taken care of by the community prior to Medicare, there's no way that would work today.

  • Sean Scallon on August 20, 2011 2:54 PM:

    Sen. Colburn would be pleased to know that that there are still are communities which take care of their own. Go to any bar and grill, grocery store or gas station "out here" and you will see flyers for local benefits and fundraisers to care of family's medical expenses.

    Of course, these are one time events and they can't hope to match where medical-industrial complex makes its money and in long-term care of long-term illnesses like cancer.

    With all the money raised, taxed, donated and given to universities and medical research centers across the country over these many years, why is it there are no cures for cancer, or AIDS, or diabetes or heart disease or any other many maladies which affect many Americans? Because a cure would mean you would no longer need such medical treatment, thus incur no more costs. Why do that when when you can get your research to treat people's illnesses to keep them alive and paying for continued treatment?

    That is what's wrong with medical care in this country and since no one in their right minds would advocate a system to deny such care because of its expense, health care will continue to be expensive and if you think pawning all the costs off to the taxpayer will make things better think again. Why should I pay for some starlet's boob job to to fix some 60-year old swinger's penis problem? You say that won't happen? Well I will remind you that neither Social Security or Medicare is means tested, meaning Donald Trump will get Social Security check and get medical bills taken care of when he gets older. If you say health care is a right, then you cannot deny one procedure and allow another and if you, see you in court.

    Oh and as for chickens, I'm sure when old "Doc" Potter lived in the village he didn't mind be paying in chickens because he figured his wife could use the eggs anyway. Today in rural America, the country doctor is some young punk from the suburbs who is there to pay off his medical school bills until he can get a specialist job at the big city hospital, and really has no need for chickens or pigs or anything else. Or this doctor is a third-world immigrant who will work in the rural countryside because nobody else will and will find it amusing if not downright insulting citizens of a superpower would be forced to pay him in the manner patients in his home country would.