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More Misleading Rhetoric From Perry

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I’m starting to wonder where Texas Gov. Rick Perry is getting his facts.

Ever since the national health care bill was passed and signed two weeks ago, Perry has been ripping the bill. Quite a few of his facts simply don’t check out.  

The latest example arrives in today’s Austin American-Statesman, which ran an op-ed by Perry carrying the oh-so-subtle headline “Obama’s Health Care Plan Is a Disaster.”

Much of the piece is predictable enough—arguments against health care reform that Perry and other Republican leaders have been making lately. I certainly don’t begrudge Perry his ideological opposition to the reform bill. I’ll also forgive him his hyperbolic description of the legislation as “socialist.” The guy’s running for reelection, after all. 

But halfway through the piece, Perry rolls out figures that simply aren’t true. 

The governor writes:

“It’s vital we fight this on every front available to us, because mandates are painful to rank-and-file Texans and extremely ineffective. Look at Massachusetts. In the Bay State, where a mandate is already a fact of life, premiums are 40 percent more expensive than elsewhere in the country, and it’s becoming harder and harder to find a doctor to see even if you are covered. By the way, the number of uninsured people in Massachusetts is about the same as it was when the mandates were passed in 2006.”

Much of that paragraph is factually inaccurate. 

Perry is, of course, correct that Massachusetts required citizens to buy health insurance as part of its health care reform in 2006 and he’s right that the recently passed national reform is similar in many ways. (He doesn’t mention, however, that Republican Gov. Mitt Romney was a key supporter of the Massachusetts reform.) Perry is also correct that patient wait times have increased in the state. 

But let’s look at his other claims.

Perry contends that insurance premiums in Massachusetts are “40 percent more expensive than elsewhere in the country.” (I assume by “elsewhere in the country,” he means the national average.) That’s a massive exaggeration. 

Massachusetts does have the highest premiums in the country (the state also has a high cost of living and higher-than-average salaries). But premiums in the Bay State are just 8 percent higher than the national average. (In 2008, the average family premium in Massachusetts was $13,800, according to this Boston Globe story. The average U.S. premium for 2008 was $12,700, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

So Massachusetts has historically high premiums, but nowhere near Perry’s 40 percent number. 

Perry also claims that the mandate didn’t reduce the number of uninsured: “[T]he number of uninsured people in Massachusetts is about the same as it was when the mandates were passed in 2006.”

That’s demonstrably false. 

Prior to 2006, 10 percent of Massachusetts residents lacked health insurance. By 2009, the uninsured rate had dropped to 2.5 percent—by far the lowest in the country. (In Texas, more than 20 percent of the population lacks health insurance.)

There are plenty of valid arguments against the health care bill. Let’s hope Perry sticks to those without resorting to outright distortions.

Dave Mann has been with the Observer since 2003. Before that, he worked as a reporter in Fort Worth and Washington, D.C. He was born and raised in Philadelphia. He thinks border collies are the world’s greatest dogs, and believes in the nourishing powers of pickup basketball.