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Rick Santorum’s latest, strangest ‘Obamacare’ claim

at 06:00 AM ET, 03/08/2012

“What we will go to in a very short period of time, the next two years, a little less than 50 percent of the people in this country depend on some form of federal payment, some form of government benefit to help provide for them. After Obamacare, it will not be less than 50 percent; it will be 100 percent.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, speaking in Steubenville, Ohio, March 7, 2012

Rick Santorum has made the growth of entitlement spending a key focus of his campaign for the presidency, and he touched upon the subject again when he addressed supporters after the Super Tuesday primaries.

We were struck by both figures he used in the speech — that 50 percent of Americans “depend on some form of federal payment” and that Obama’s health-care law would bring the figure to an eye-popping 100 percent. In other words, in just two years, every single American would begin to get federal handouts, according to Santorum’s calculation.

As usual, the Santorum campaign did not respond to a request for documentation, so we searched for the best data we could find.

The Facts

With the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in the mid-1960s, entitlement spending has certainly grown. And the Great Recession has also increased the number of people who rely on government benefits, such as unemployment insurance.

Still, Santorum overstates the case when he says that “a little less than 50 percent of the people in this country depend on some form of federal payment, some form of government benefit to help provide for them.” The actual figure, drawn from Census data, is that nearly half of U.S. residents — 48.6 percent in the second quarter of 2010 — live in households receiving government benefits. That’s a big difference, since only one person could be getting a benefit out of, say, a family of four--though, to be fair, one could also argue that everyone in that family is relying on that benfit in some form or the other.

As Veronique de Rugy of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University noted in a recent report, 35 percent lived in households that received aid from a means-tested program; 16 percent lived in a household receiving Social Security benefits and 15 percent received Medicare benefits. There is obviously overlap because some people could receive aid from a variety of programs, not just one.

The left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities broke the numbers down a different way, calculating that 53 percent of entitlement spending went to the elderly, 20 percent to the non-elderly disabled and 18 percent to people in a working household.

Digging into these figures, we quickly find that Santorum’s claim that “Obamacare” will bring the level to 100 percent is simply absurd.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the health-care law would extend health insurance to about 32 million additional people, meaning the percentage of non-elderly insured residents would climb from 83 percent to 94 percent. (This would still leave 23 million non-elderly residents — about a third of whom are illegal immigrants — without health insurance coverage.)

So there are still millions of Americans who are not affected by the law. That’s not 100 percent.

Moreover, the people who under the law would either now qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (estimated to be 16 million) or who would receive income-based tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies to purchase insurance (estimated to be 24 million) generally come from the lower end of the income scale. The tax credits and subsidies, for instance, phase out once a person reaches 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

In other words, the people who would be receiving financial benefits under the health care law are likely already receiving government benefits, meaning the percentage of households receiving entitlements might barely budge. And if it is increased, it would sure fall well short of 100 percent. (Update: PolitiFact weighed in with its own examination of this quote and determined the percentage was unlikely to rise about 60 percent.)

Santorum further compounded his error by claiming that such a massive shift would take place in just two years.

The Pinocchio Test

As the GOP race for the presidential nomination has dragged on, Santorum has shown an increasing tendency to shoot from hip, with little attention to the facts. His latest claim about entitlement spending falls into this category. There is not a shred of evidence to back up this claim.

Four Pinocchios




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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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