washingtonpost.com
Health scare tactics
A GOP blizzard of untrue statements

By Ruth Marcus
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

I'm hoping, for your sake, that you didn't spend your Saturday night as I did: watching the House debate health-care reform on C-SPAN.

Pathetic, I know. The outcome wasn't in doubt, and the arguments were as familiar as an old pair of slippers. Moral imperative! Government takeover! Long-overdue protections! Crippling mandates!

I'm not a huge fan of the House measure, but I was glad to see it straggle across the finish line, if only to keep the process going. And, by the end of the long debate, I was cheering for it even more because of the appalling amount of misinformation being peddled by its opponents.

I don't mean the usual hyperbole about "a children-bankrupting, health-care-rationing, freedom-crushing, $1 trillion government takeover of our health-care system," as Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling put it. Or the tired canards about taxpayer-funded abortion or insurance subsidies for illegal immigrants.

Or the extraneous claims about alleged Democratic excesses, as in this from Georgia Republican Jack Kingston: "Let's remember the Pelosi plan for jobs: an $800 billion stimulus plan that caused unemployment to go from 8.5 percent to over 10 percent."

Caused? We can debate whether the stimulus was effective, although the best evidence is that it prevented things from being even worse. No rational person believes the stimulus "caused" unemployment to rise.

I mean the flood of sheer factual misstatements about the health-care bill.

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 Advantage."

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 much."

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 patient care."

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 Washington's approval.

Michigan Republican Dave Camp: "Americans could face five years in jail if they don't comply with the bill's demands to buy approved health insurance."

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 distortions?

marcusr@washpost.com

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company