Mitch McConnell Had Polio, Government Healthcare Saved His Life-Mostly Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
Claims that Senator Mitch McConnell had polio as a child and free government healthcare saved his life began making the rounds as McConnell led Senate Republicans’ efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare in June 2017.
Mitch McConnell had polio as a boy, but his treatments were paid for by charitable donations — not a free government healthcare program, as has been reported.
That rumor started with a post appearing on June 22, 2017, at the website Occupy Democrats under the headline, “Mitch McConnell Beat Polio As A Child Thanks To Government Healthcare,” that had been shared nearly 100,000 times within a week. The story reports that Polio received treatment where President Franklin Roosevelt waged his own battle with polio and later established a treatment center:
Young Mitch came down with a terrible case of polio as a child in Alabama. “My mother was, of course, like many mothers of young polio victims, perplexed about what to do, anxious about whether I would be disabled for the rest of my life” he admitted in a 2005 interview.
But luckily for him, his mother took him 50 miles to the Warm Springs, where President Roosevelt won his own battle with polio and established a polio treatment center that was paid for by the public.
President Roosevelt asked the people of America to send in dimes to the White House as part of his “March of the Dimes” foundation. Over two and a half million dimes were mailed in, and they paid for Mitch’s physical therapy and treatment.
The posts claim that Mitch McConnell’s polio treatments were “paid for by the public” is true, considering that March of Dimes is a nonprofit that depends on contributions from the public. However, the claim made in the headline that McConnell beat polio “thanks to government healthcare” is false — which is why we’re classifying this rumor as “mostly fiction.”
Claims that Mitch McConnell survived polio thanks to free government healthcare were repeated in June 2017 as McConnell oversaw Senate Republicans’ plan to advance a healthcare bill that would end coverage for an estimated 22 million Americans and make deep cuts to Medicaid, a government-run program, the Congressional Budget Office reports.
Factual accounts of Mitch McConnell’s childhood experience with polio are based off of a speech he made on the Senate floor in 2005 in which he recounted his experience with polio as a two-year-old boy:
I was struck with polio when I was two years old. My dad was overseas and fighting in World War II. Polio was similar to having the flu. You felt sick all over, and when it went away, the difference between having polio and having the flu were the residual effects. In my case, when my flulike symptoms went away, I had a quadriceps in my left leg that was dramatically affected. My mother was of course like many mothers of young polio victims perplexed about what to do, anxious about whether I would be disabled for the rest of my life. But we were fortunate. Where we were living while my father was overseas was with her sister, in East Central Alabama, only about 40 or 50 miles from Warm Springs. Everyone knows that President Roosevelt established Warm Spring where he went to engage in his own physical therapy as a center to treat other polio victims. My mother was able to put me in the car, take me over to Warm Springs, and learn from those wonderful physical therapists who were there what to do.
The treatment center that Mitch McConnell referred to was founded as the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation and was later renamed the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation. In addition to undergoing polio treatments there, Roosevelt maintained a residence between 1933 and 1945, having died during a visit to Warm Springs.
In 1939, the FDR Library reports that former president started using his birthday to raise funds for the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation, which had established the treatment center in 1927:
In 1938, FDR created the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to support the rehabilitation center at Warm Springs and also to aid the victims of polio throughout the country. To increase awareness of the Foundation’s campaign, radio personality and philanthropist Eddie Cantor took to the air waves and urged Americans to send their loose change to President Roosevelt in “a march of dimes to reach all the way to the White House.”
Soon, millions of dimes flooded the White House. In 1945, the annual March of Dimes campaign raised $18.9 million for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. The March of Dimes (as the National Foundation became known) financially supported the research and development of a polio vaccine by Jonas Salk in 1955, eradicating the disease throughout most of the world by the 1960s.
So, although FDR was closely tied to the Warm Springs treatment facility, he didn’t undertake a government program that provided free healthcare there. And, although Mitch McConnell received free publicly-supported polio treatment there, it wasn’t free government healthcare.
Mitch McConnell has drawn criticism for refusing to meet with the March of Dimes and other patient advocacy groups as he leads Senate efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare — although the organization saved his ability to walk, and might have even saved his life.