Suneel Gupta, a surprisingly potent Democratic candidate in one of the hottest congressional races in the nation, has released a campaign ad that continues to puff up his resume by claiming that he has had a successful career in the healthcare industry.
Gupta is running for the open seat in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District (upscale portions of Wayne and Oakland counties) in a crowded field and has raised substantial campaign cash thanks to his connections to the world of technology and venture capital in California’s Silicon Valley.
Yet, the first-time candidate continues to portray himself as a progressive who has a history of working in healthcare, claiming that he has reduced costs and provided preventative care approaches to make his clients healthier.
There is a small grain of truth to that rhetoric though in his new Facebook ad Gupta, as he has in recent months, claims that he is the only candidate in the race with “hands-on” healthcare experience.
In fact, his dubious references date back to a tech company he created, Rise, which developed a smartphone application that links users with “nutrition coaches” to help them lose weight. The gist of the idea was that subscribers would take cell phone photos of each meal they were about to eat and send the pics to their coach for a critique. It didn’t seem to amount to much more than that.
Gupta continues to claim on the campaign trail that Rise was a company dedicated to assist those suffering from hypertension or diabetes. But the Rise sales pitch was always that the company promised subscribers (at a cost of $40 to $50 per month) they would lose weight more effectively than if they followed any of the “fad diets.”
The online effort to recruit customers did not openly mention long-term plans to manage health problems related to blood pressure or blood sugar. Instead, assurances were offered of satisfactory weight loss within 12 weeks.
But in his campaign promotions, we get this: “Gupta not only identified an innovative solution for how to minimize the need for Americans to use the healthcare system, but also reduce costs within the system itself.”
About two years after the app for dieters began to gain notice, Gupta sold the company for $20 million to a health care firm in February 2016.
He was kept on as leader of the Rise acquisition along with a business partner but, months later, he left the company. Some in in the tech industry had immediately questioned why the parent company, One Medical Group, which offers online services to connect low-income patients to local doctors, would want to purchase a diet advice app.
“It’s not very often that you see doctor-led medical practices acquiring trendy mobile health startups,” commented the website Fast Company at the time.
In the new Facebook ad and in a previous website campaign video, Gupta emphasizes that he originally came up with the idea of a diet app along with his much better-known brother, Sanjay, the medical correspondent for CNN. But Sanjay Gupta was never listed as a Rise founder, partner or adviser.
Gupta, 38, moved to Michigan from San Francisco less than a year ago to run for the open congressional seat in his onetime suburban home base of Novi. But his campaign approach, beyond the inflated claims about Rise, include suggestions to voters that he played major roles in two other startup tech companies that enjoyed astounding growth in the past, Mozilla Firefox and Groupon.