As the old saying goes, you can fool some of the people all of the time. That appears to be the target audience of politicians who blatantly lie about what health reform would do, and never apologize. Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus gleefully calls out these corporate puppets, after watching the House of Representatives debate before it narrowly passed a health reform bill on Saturday.
Like Marcus, I'm no fan of the ugly concessions in the House bill. But I also acknowledge that it keeps reform moving. What the liars do tell us is what we can expect to hear as the Senate takes up its even weaker bill. Here's her list:
The falsehood-peddling began at the top, with Minority Leader John Boehner:
"If you're a Medicare Advantage enrollee . . . the Congressional Budget
Office says that 80 percent of them are going to lose their Medicare
Not true. The CBO hasn't said anything of the sort. Boehner's office
acknowledges that he misspoke: He meant to cite a study from the
Medicare actuary estimating that projected enrollment would be down by
64 percent -- if the cuts took effect. Choosing not to enroll in
Medicare Advantage is different from "losing" it.
But Boehner wasn't alone.
Kentucky Republican Brett Guthrie: "The bill raises taxes for just about everyone."
Not true. The bill imposes a surtax on the top 0.3 percent of
households, individuals making more than $500,000 a year and couples
making more than $1 million.
Georgia Republican Tom Price: "This bill, on Page 733, empowers the
Washington bureaucracy to deny lifesaving patient care if it costs too
Not true. The bill sets up a Center for Comparative Effectiveness
Research "in order to identify the manner in which diseases, disorders,
and other health conditions can most effectively and appropriately be
prevented, diagnosed, treated, and managed clinically."
Are Republicans against figuring out what works? There's nothing in
there about cost, and certainly nothing about denying "lifesaving
Price, again: "This bill, on Page 94, will make it illegal for any American to obtain health care not approved by Washington."
Not true. The vast majority of Americans get their insurance through
their employers. The bill envisions setting minimum federal standards
for such insurance, in part to determine who is eligible to buy
coverage through the newly created insurance exchanges. This is hardly
tantamount to making it "illegal" to obtain "health care" without
Michigan Republican Dave Camp: "Americans could face five years in
jail if they don't comply with the bill's demands to buy approved
Not true. The bill requires people to obtain insurance or, with some
hardship exceptions, pay a fine. No one is being jailed for being
uninsured. People who intentionally evade paying the fine could, in
theory, be prosecuted -- just like others who cheat on their taxes.
California Republican Buck McKeon: "I offered two amendments to try
to improve this bill -- one to require members of Congress to enroll in
the public option like we're going to require all of you to do."
Not true. No one is required to enroll in the public option. In fact, most people won't even be eligible to enroll in the public option or other plans available through the exchanges.
Florida Republican Ginny Brown-Waite: "The president's own economic
advisers have said that this bill will kill 5.5 million jobs."
Not true. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic
Advisers, has estimated that the bill would increase economic growth
and add jobs. Republicans misuse Romer's previous economic research on
the impact of tax increases to produce the phony 5.5 million number.
You have to wonder: Are the Republican arguments against the bill so
weak that they have to resort to these misrepresentations and
Marcus is right that the claims are not facts, but they aren't necessarily weak. Boehner's false claims about Medicare Advantage plans are especially potent. Most of his target audience will hear only the word "Medicare" and think they're going to lose coverage. And Medicare Advantage plans, which are for-profit HMO versions of Medicare, sometimes offering extra goodies like gym memberships and eyeglasses, are an economic bloodsucker on the rest of Medicare.
The Medicare Advantage plans get paid more than the cost of traditional Medicare--more than $1,000 a year per enrollee--which funds the goodies but also goes to corporate profit. And it's taxpayers, plus regular Medicare patients who buy Part B doctor coverage, who are paying for it. It's a scam that is driving up the overall costs of Medicare and further weakening the whole system.
Cutting that overpayment will help, not hurt, Medicare, and make private providers prove their efficiency claims. But that explanation doesn't have punch of the screamers who are claiming that reform will take away your Medicare. The listeners who believe it also aren't doing their homework, but that's another story.