The Misleading Health Care Rhetoric

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You had to know the sensationalistic anti-health-care-reform rhetoric would return.

Congress may soon pass the nation’s most significant health care overhaul in four decades. (The House has already passed its version, and the Senate will begin what promises to be a rollicking debate after Thanksgiving.)

Predictably, critics of the bill are once again ramping up their opposition. We haven’t heard much about death panels recently, but what we are hearing is just as misleading. 

On  Monday — after the Senate voted to begin debate on the health care bill — my inbox was flooded with emails from conservative groups trying to mobilize their supporters with dire warnings that the world as we know it will end if Democrats pass national health care reform. 

Critics put forth three common (and highly misleading) talking points: The legislation will raise your taxes (and the taxes of nearly every American), will nationalize our health care system, and will slash Medicare.

You also hear that from Republican lawmakers. Kay Bailey Hutchison, for instance, said on last Sunday’s Meet the Press that:

Our only avenue to stop it is to let the American people know that their taxes are going to increase, that their premiums are going to increase, that Medicare’s going to be cut.”

Let’s start with claim No. 1: The bill will raise our taxes. That’s not true. Both bills are financed through tax increases on — say it with me — rich people.

The House bill would raise taxes on individuals making $500,000 a year or more and couples earning $1 million or more; the Senate version would raise Medicare payroll taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 a year or couples earning $250,000.

That means — at worst — a tax increase for roughly 5 percent of Americans. The other 95 percent of us will see no tax hike from this bill.

For more details, here’s an excellent breakdown of the bills from Reuters.

Next up, let’s look at the government-takeover-of-health-care talk. This, of course, is an old saw and a fairly obvious falsehood, so I won’t spend much time debunking it. The House plan includes a limited government-run plan that would compete with private insurers in health care exchanges. (Quite a few liberals would like to see a full-on government takeover of health care, but this isn’t it. The giveaway is that many liberals aren’t thrilled with this idea.) The Senate bill, meanwhile, contains a similar “public option,” but would allow states to opt out. Something tells me Texas would be first in line to jump ship.

Finally, the Medicare issue. This is a tricky one. The bills do propose several hundred billion worth of cuts to Medicare spending. But that doesn’t mean Medicare benefits would be reduced. This gets complicated — it’s Medicare, after all — but most of the cuts would come from two areas that wouldn’t greatly impact health care for seniors.

The biggest cuts would be to the Medicare Advantage program, which contracts with private insurers to deliver benefits. It’s been a darling of the GOP in recent years. The program covers just 20 percent of Medicare patients. Some private insurers are reportedly pocketing a nice profit on Medicare Advantage, and those dollars are the first on the cut list. Did I mention that it’s complicated? For a more detailed breakdown, go here.

So while it’s technically true that Medicare spending will be reduced, Medicare benefits largely won’t suffer. Most seniors will see no difference. Given those details, the “it cuts Medicare” phrasing sounds like a scare tactic.

The final tally: Out of three main claims, health care reform critics have two outright lies and one distortion.

But — to paraphrase my favorite character from The Wire – it’s all in the game, right?

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.