Many of Obama’s Claims about Health-Care Reform Have Been Debunked
September 8, 2009 - 6:51 PMWhile President Obama will likely make news tonight by telling Congress what he is willing to accept from a health care reform proposal, he may also repeat points he has made over the past few months that have been refuted by non-partisan sources.
The Congressional Budget Office, run by Democratic director Douglas Elmendorf, as well as other government and non-profit organizations have produced analyses that dispute several assertions by the president and Democratic members of Congress.
The president, for example, has said health-care reform will be deficit neutral, does not steer tax dollars to abortions and that there are 46 million uninsured Americans. But each of these claims has been disputed by non-partisan sources.
The legislation proposed by Democrats in Congress and backed by Obama would establishing a government plan to compete with private insurers, mandate employer and individual coverage and prohibit insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition.
Abortions Covered in Language
During his Aug. 22, weekly address aimed at busting myths about the health reform plan, Obama insisted the legislation would not fund abortions.
“Some are also saying that coverage for abortions would be mandated under reform,” Obama said. “Also false. When it comes to the current ban on using tax dollars for abortions, nothing will change under reform.”
However, the House bill mandates that government-run insurance exchanges where people would buy insurance with government subsidies include at least one plan that covers abortion. Also, committees in both the House and Senate rejected amendment that would have explicitly forbid federal money from going to pay for abortion under the plan.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee rejected an amendment on July 31 that would said, “No funds authorized under this Act (or an amendment by this Act) may be used to pay for any abortion.” It was defeated by a 30-29 vote.
The committee then added an amendment by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) that would leave it up to private insurers whether to fund abortions, even if these private insurers are taking federally subsidized customers. Her amendment also required that at least one insurer in the federal insurance exchange cover abortion, and left it up to the secretary of health and human services to decide if the public option itself would provide abortion coverage.
The House bill has passed three committees. The Senate legislation, however, has only passed the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and is still under review by the Finance Committee.
The HELP committee adopted an amendment by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) that requires insurance companies to include services for pregnant women and women in childbearing years as provided by groups such as Planned Parenthood.
The adopted language says, “A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall provide coverage for, and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements (other than minimal costs sharing in accordance with guidelines developed by the Secretary) for, with respect to women (including pregnant and individuals of child bearing ages), such additional preventative care and screening not covered under section 2708 as provided for in guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration.”
Though the Mikulski amendment did not directly state it would cover abortions, Sens. Orin Hatch (R-Utah) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) asked if the language was broad enough to include coverage of abortion. Mikulski responded, “It would provide for any service deemed medically necessary or medically appropriate.”
When Hatch asked if she would add language to her amendment to specifically exclude abortion coverage, Mikulski answered: “No. I would not be willing to do that tat this time.”
Not Deficit Neutral
During his July 22 news conference, the president stressed that one important goal of the legislation was to save money.
Obama said: “Now, what we did very early on was say two-thirds of the costs of health care reform--which includes providing coverage for people who don't have it, making it more affordable for folks who do, and making sure that we’re over the long term creating the kinds of systems where prevention and wellness and information technologies make the system more efficient--that the entire cost of that has to be paid for and it’s got to be deficit-neutral.”
However, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has shown that the health care overhaul legislation would add another $1.04 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years if enacted.
“That estimate primarily reflects $438 billion in additional federal outlays for Medicaid and $773 billion in federal subsidies that would be provided to purchase coverage through the new insurance exchanges, the CBO report from July says.
“Not all enrollees in the exchanges would receive subsidies, but the average subsidy among those who would be subsidized is projected to rise from roughly $4,800 in 2015 to roughly $6,000 in 2019,” the report continues. “The other main element of the proposal that would increase federal deficits is the tax credit for small employers who offer health insurance, which is estimated to reduce revenues by $53 billion over 10 years.”
The CBO does say, however, that some of that cost increase will level off in later years.
“Initially, the net increase in employment-based coverage that is estimated to result from the proposal would increase the federal deficit by several billion dollars per year because it would shift compensation toward tax-preferred health insurance,” the report says. “Over time, however, the net impact on employment-based coverage would diminish, and the resulting impact on the budget would be smaller.”
35 Million Americans Uninsured
On at least three occasions, the president has overstated the number of Americans who are uninsured by as much as 10 million.
In an op-ed in The New York Times, Obama said, “I don’t have to explain to the nearly 46 million Americans who don’t have health insurance how important this is.”
During the July 22 news conference, Obama said talked about the “47 million Americans who have no health insurance.”
And during an Aug. 11 town hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., he also said, “nearly 46 million Americans don’t have health insurance coverage today,” and that “46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 35.9 million U.S. citizens and 9.7 million foreign nationals living in the United States are without medical insurance. That is according to the bureau’s report on “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007,” the most recent publicly available statistics.
The 2008 data will be released on Thursday—the day after the president’s speech to the joint session of Congress.
During his Aug. 22 address, Obama said, “Let’s start with the false claim that illegal immigrants will get health insurance under reform. That’s not true. Illegal immigrants would not be covered. That idea has never even been on the table.”
The House bill does state in Title II, Subtitle C, Section 246 that “no federal payment for undocumented aliens.”
However, the proposal provides no mechanism for verifying legal status, making it difficult for insurers and medical personal to know who legally qualifies for federal subsidies under the plan.
Amendments proposed by Rep. Dean Heller (R.-Nev.) and Rep. Nathan Deal (R.-Ga.) that would have required verification of legal status were rejected respectively by the House Ways and Means and the House Energy and Commerce committees.
Heller said that the Income and Eligibility Verification System (IEVS), and the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) would ensure that health insurance subsidy applicants are U.S. citizens or legal residents eligible for the program.
When speaking to the AARP, Obama said, “Nobody is talking cutting Medicare benefits.”
However, he has supported eliminating subsidies to Medicare Advantage, which allows seniors to buy certain private plans with public dollars. The president has called the program “costly and redundant.”
“What we do want to do is eliminate some of the waste that is being paid for out of the Medicare trust fund that could be used more effectively to cover more people and to strengthen the system,” Obama said.
Keep Existing Plan
In what was supposed to be a myth-busting weekly address, Obama again stated that everyone would be able to keep their existing plan.
“If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” Obama said. “If you like your private insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period.”
There is no coercion to change to the government option.
But with the government-run health insurance exchange and the public option, employers would have incentives to change the plan offered to their employees, according to studies by the CBO and the Lewin Group, a private health care analysis firm.
The Lewin Group projects that if the government option extended to all employers, enrollment would grow to 131.2 million and 119.1 million Americans would leave private plans for the public option.
In a June 15 report, the CBO said, “When fully implemented, about 39 million individuals would obtain coverage through the new insurance exchanges.”
“At the same time,” the CBO said, “the number of people who had coverage through an employer would decline by about 15 million (or roughly 10 percent), and coverage from other sources would fall by about 8 million, so the net decrease in the number of people uninsured would be about 16 million or17 million."