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Ruth Marcus on debunking health reform myths

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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.

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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."


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