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Debunking Conservative Health Reform Myths

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by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, Ryan Powers, and Igor Volsky

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Before President-elect Obama can institute his health care reform agenda, Congress must address some unfinished business from the Bush era. On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will consider the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) reauthorization measure. In 2007, despite broad bipartisan support and the urging of governors, President Bush vetoed two bills that would have extended health care coverage to some 10 million children.Congress aims to fix that problem. The new legislation "will become law in the fairly near term," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said, predicting that Congress will pass the measure despite conservative opposition. In fact, Obama has already begun working with Congress to develop affordable health care reforms. The President-elect's stimulus package, for instance, includes more federal funds for Medicaid, subsidies to help "recently laid-off workers pay to retain their health insurance through COBRA," and a provision "that would seek to computerize all medical records within five years." While progressives are working to build bipartisan support for these measures, some conservatives have started laying the groundwork for a misinformation campaign to undermine long-term reform. Since Obama's election victory in November, conservative politicians and pundits have been actively filling the nation's leading newspapers with editorials misrepresenting the consequences and implications of expanding access to affordable health care coverage for all Americans. Last week, the Center for American Progress Action Fund released a new report identifying and debunking the right-wing's most widely circulated myths about reform.

In a recent editorial published in the Washington Times, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) argued that what health care reform really means "is limiting freedom -- the freedom to choose a doctor, to take your health care with you when you switch jobs, to make personal medical decisions." Similarly, Michael Cannon, director of health care policy at the Cato Institute, charged that "the Left's idea of limiting Medicare spending is to have bureaucrats tell Mom she cannot have the cancer treatment she wants." In reality, progressive proposals for health reform would offer more choice, not less. Americans will have the choice to keep the employer plan they currently have or buy an affordable plan from the national insurance exchange. Individuals and small businesses will be able to "compare private coverage options and a public plan and to purchase the policy that would work best for them." Moreover, rather than ration treatments, investment into the comparative effectiveness of treatments will help identify the procedures that provide the best results at the lowest cost. According to a study conducted by the RAND corporation, at least one-third of medical procedures have questionable benefits. Thus, progressive proposals will allow mom and her doctor to choose the best treatment for her cancer.

MYTH -- GOVERNMENT WILL HAVE A MONOPOLY AND DRIVE UP COSTS: In a series of issue briefs and web memos, the Heritage Foundation has warned that allowing private insurers to compete directly with a new public plan would drive private insurers out of business and completely "cancel private coverage and care." Karen Ignani, the CEO of American Health Insurance Plans, has also charged that the new public plan would only "exacerbate cost-shifting," drive-up health care costs, and increase premiums for Americans with private insurance. But as the Urban Institute has pointed out, "[T]he presence of a well-run public plan would constrain private spending, as the plans would have to compete on price." In fact, private insurers that "offer a superior product through high levels of efficiency, satisfaction in consumer preferences and ease of access to quality medical services" will thrive in a reformed market.

A recent Washington Times editorial suggested, "Let the marketplace answer both calls [of affordability and accessibility]...The government cannot possibly do for Americans what the marketplace can." But the current marketplace is broken; it has failed to keep costs down and increase access to care. Rather than competing on the value of care, insurance markets have "become dominated by a small number of large insurers" that don't use their market power to drive bargains with providers. The current marketplace has contributed to only skyrocketing premiums and huge cost-shifts to families through higher deductibles and co-payments, while largely excluding individuals with pre-existing conditions from any coverage.