The Fact Checker: Health Care

Blunt Amendment: Schumer’s over-the-top rhetoric

(Win McNamee - GETTY IMAGES)

This whole debate [over the Blunt Amendment] is an anachronism. Our country progressed beyond the issue of whether or not to allow birth control a long time ago. Yet here we are in 2012, and the Republican Party suddenly wants to turn back the clock and take away contraception from women. Make no mistake: that’s what this debate is about.”
Mr. President, if this amendment passes, it would ban contraception coverage for any woman in America whose boss has a personal objection to it. This measure would force women to surrender control of their own health decisions to their bosses.”
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, some 20 million American women could be cut off from health services by this proposal. — Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) speaking on the Senate floor about the Blunt Amendment, Feb. 29, 2012

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York made these remarks while speaking against the Blunt Amendment, a Senate proposal that would have undermined President Obama’s controversial mandate requiring employers or their insurance companies to cover the cost of contraceptives, as well as other preventive health services. Lawmakers effectively killed the Blunt measure on Thursday by a vote of 51-48.

Republicans have argued that the contraception-coverage rule violates the religious liberty of faith-based organizations that oppose birth control. Democrats contend that the real issue is women’s health. Both sides are trying to seize control of the debate and convince voters that their rights are in jeopardy.

We realize this is a controversial issue, with emotions running high on both sides, and we take no stand on it. But we were curious if Schumer stretched the truth with his remarks. Did the Senate just save women from a return to the 19th century? Would the measure truly ban contraception coverage when employers object to it?

The Facts

The mandate in question comes from the 2010 health care reform law, which required employers to provide coverage of certain preventive health services without charging the insured. Churches have been exempt from the provision, but some religious leaders still object to it on grounds that church-affiliated institutions — such as Catholic hospitals — will have to pay for health services that violated their principles.

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Euthanasia in the Netherlands: Rick Santorum’s bogus statistics

“In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized — ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — half of those people are enthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, at the American Heartland Forum in Columbia, Missouri, Feb. 3, 2012

These were interesting remarks by one of the leading candidates for the GOP nomination. Though Santorum made this observation earlier in the month, a video of his comments only circulated on the web over the weekend and a number of readers asked whether he is correct. (His comments also spawned headlines in Holland, such as one that proclaimed: “Rick Santorum Thinks He Knows the Netherlands: Murder of the Elderly on a Grand Scale.”)

So we will check his statistics — 10 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands are from euthanasia and 50 percent of those die involuntarily — and also his claim that the elderly wear bracelets requesting that they not be euthanized.

(Full disclosure: The Fact Checker’s parents emigrated from Holland and I have direct, personal experience with the practice of euthanasia there. My father’s brother requested euthanasia when he was diagnosed with a terminal disease and after various remedies were ineffective. In the United States, he might have lived another two or three months, in great pain, and likely would have lapsed into a coma before death. But, after a conclusion by the Dutch medical establishment that he had no chance of survival, he arranged for his death at home with his family at his side. He even called me an hour before his death to say good-bye.)

We realize this is an emotional issue in the United States. But the simple facts, as Santorum described them, should be clear.

The Facts

In 2001, The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia, setting forth a complex process. The law, which went into effect a year later, codified a practice that has been unofficially tolerated for many years.

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The claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: a media foul


“98 percent of Catholic women, I am told by all of you, use birth control to determine the size and timing of their families.”

--House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Feb. 16, 2012

Ever since the battle erupted between Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over providing free contraception coverage as part of health plans for workers, a striking figure has appeared in the news — that 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraceptives.

 “Birth-control is widely used even by Catholics: 98 percent of American Catholic women have used contraception in their lifetimes.”

The Washington Post, Feb. 12


“In fact, 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lifetimes.”

National Public Radio, Feb. 10


“Studies have shown that 98 percent of Catholic women have used artificial contraception at some time in their lives.”

The New York Times, Feb. 10

 Small wonder that Pelosi cited the media — “I am told by all of you” — when she made her comment on Thursday. But what does this figure really mean and where does it come from?


The Facts

 The 98-percent figure first appeared in an April 2011 study written by Rachel K. Jones and Joerg Dreweke of the Guttmacher Institute, which is a non-profit organization that promotes reproductive health and had started as an arm of Planned Parenthood. The study is titled “Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use.”

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Rick Santorum’s claims about Massachusetts health reforms

(Matt Rourke, AP)

“There was just a survey that came out and said one in four [Massachusetts residents] don’t get the care they need because of the high cost. So you have a card, you’re covered, but you can’t get care.

“In Massachusetts, everybody is mandated -- as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts -- to buy health insurance, and if you don’t, you have to pay a fine. What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a preexisting condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama. So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after -- the people that were free-riding -- free ridership has gone up fivefold in Massachusetts. Five times the rate it was before.”

-- Rick Santorum, during the GOP debate in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 26, 2012

Santorum made these comments as part of a long exchange with rival Mitt Romney over the merits of the former Massachusetts governor’s health-care reform plan. He said the “free rider” problem grew worse when the law was supposed to alleviate it.

Romney defended his overhaul by pointing out that 98 percent of Bay State residents are now insured, and that “half of those people got insurance on their own; others got help in buying the insurance.”

Santorum has tried to discredit Romney’s health-care reforms in the past two GOP primary debates, insinuating that the former governor will be a liability challenging President Obama in the general election. We researched recent reports on the Massachusetts reforms to find out whether the former Pennsylvania senator had any basis for his most recent claims.

The Facts

The Santorum campaign did not respond to requests for information that would prove high costs have barred one in four Massachusetts residents from receiving care, although a spokesman did explain where the free-rider claim originated -- we’ll address that next.

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Mitt Romney: Medicare fraud allegations and ‘Blood Money’

“At the center of one such Medicare scheme: Mitt Romney. It is a story of fraud. It is a story of big profits, big lies and at the time the biggest criminal fine for health fraud ever levied in Massachusetts history.”

— Voice-over from “Blood Money: Romney’s Medicare Scandal,” a video produced by pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future.

Winning Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has released another attack on rival Mitt Romney’s business practices. A one-minute “trailer” and a 30-second TV ad (see below) that amplify the themes of corporate malfeasance accompany the nearly eight-minute video, “Blood Money.” (The title refers to the fact that a company once partly owned by Bain Capital, Romney’s firm, was found guilty of charging Medicare for unnecessary blood tests.)

We were highly critical of Winning Our Future’s “King of Bain” film, awarding it Four Pinocchios, in part because it focused on business failures in which Romney was only tangentially involved. And anyone living in Massachusetts would find this Medicare fraud case to be old news because the case first emerged in 1992 as an issue in Romney’s successful race for governor.

Still, this time Winning Our Future gets closer to the mark. The case concerning Damon Clinical Laboratories is relevant because 1) Romney was a director of the firm while the fraud took place; 2) the fraud appears to have ended only after Bain sold its stake in the firm; 3) Romney personally earned nearly $500,000 from the sale of Damon; and 4) Romney’s statements about what he knew and when he knew it have been inconsistent.

We’re going to hear a lot more about Damon if Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is already running an ad in Florida that highlights the case. (The spot is at the end of the column.)

Let’s take a closer look:

The Facts

In 1996, the Justice Department announced that Damon had agreed to pay a $35.3 million criminal fine — one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history — and an additional $83.7 million to settle whistle-blower lawsuits. The company, then owned by Corning, admitted that from 1988 to 1993 it had bolstered its earnings by submitting false claims to Medicare and other federal programs. Essentially, the firm billed for blood tests that doctors had not ordered.

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Newt Gingrich’s changing stance on health-care mandates (Fact Checker biography)

(Rainier Ehrhardt, AP)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been in describing his past achievements. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Gingrich’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Gingrich talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

— Glenn Kessler


“If you explore the mandate, it ultimately ends up with unconstitutional powers. It allows the government to define virtually everything. And if you can do it for health care, you can do it for everything in your life, and, therefore, we should not have a mandate.”

— Remarks by Newt Gingrich during GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., June 13, 2011

“I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.”

— Recorded statement by Newt Gingrich, from the GOP candidate’s Web site.

Gingrich has voiced resounding opposition to the “Obamacare” insurance mandate during his 2012 campaign, describing the policy as unconstitutional. He says he fought hard against it with the Center for Health Transformation, a health-care industry think tank he helped establish.

Fellow GOP front-runner Mitt Romney challenged this point, insisting that Gingrich inspired the insurance mandate he implemented as part of a health-care reform bill in Massachusetts. We took a look at the former House speaker’s past to find out whether the conservative icon known for innovative and often shape-shifting ideas might have experienced a change of heart.

The Facts

Gingrich and Romney engaged in a brief but heated spat during the Oct. 18 GOP debate after the former speaker criticized Massachusetts’s health-care reform program as a big-government, high-cost solution for covering the uninsured. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

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