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Sorting Myth From Reality

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by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ian Millhiser and Nate Carlile

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Congress may be moving one step closer to reforming health care, as the Senate Finance Committee nears agreement on a bipartisan compromise. Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowed that the committee would wrap up its work by the end of next week. This deal, however, will most likely not contain a public option or a mandate for employers to provide employees with health insurance. While many progressives are upset with this outcome, it's important to remember that this is not the final legislation: After the bill passes the Senate Finance Committee, it will still need to be reconciled with the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and House bills, both of which include a public option. While these lawmakers continue to hammer out the details, many Republicans, conservative activists, and industry lobbyists continue to spread misinformation and push for indefinite delays in the hope of killing any chance at change. Yesterday in a "tele-town hall" sponsored by AARP, President Obama addressed this obstruction, underscoring that no one is talking about "socialized medicine," despite what conservatives are charging. "I think that we've been so accustomed to hearing those phrases that sometimes we can't sort out the myth from the reality," Obama said.

NOT GOING FAR ENOUGH: Instead of a public option, the Senate Finance Committee plan will likely include regional, non-profit cooperatives, which have been pushed by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND). Though Conrad asserts that his co-ops will accomplish "much of what those who want a public option are calling for," co-ops have historically had trouble fulfilling their goal of offering small employers and individuals a choice in health plans and reducing costs. The inclusion of a so-called "free rider" penalty instead of an employer mandate comes from the misguided belief that a mandate would lead employers to stop offering insurance. The free rider provision would require employers not offering coverage to pay a penalty "based on how much the government ends up paying for workers' coverage." The problem with this plan, notes the Wonk Room's Igor Volsky, is that "employers in low cost areas would be subsidizing workers in high cost areas, and vice versa." Additionally, this free rider provision would make it "considerably more expensive for employers who do not offer health insurance to hire workers from lower-income families," so employers would "have strong incentives to tilt hiring toward people who have a spouse/parent with a good income." Fivethirtyeight.com's Nate Silver observes that the Senate Finance proposal "looks an awful lot like the incomplete draft of the HELP Committee's bill that the CBO scored last month," which was widely criticized for costing $1 trillion over the next 10 years but only reducing the number of uninsured by 16 million. It was only when the final HELP bill came out -- which included both a public option and an employer mandate -- that the CBO estimated that it would reduce the uninsured ranks by 37 million for the same cost.

PROUD OBSTRUCTIONISTS:
Conservatives have been trying to claim that they are in favor of reform and that it's the Democrats' fault that the process is being slowed down. "That they have had to slow down is because so many Democrats, including so many Democrat governors, know this is something that can't be rushed, because it's very dangerous in some of the forms it could be," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) this week. On Fox News yesterday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) claimed, "This isn't being held up by Republicans." Unfortunately, a delay and kill strategy is exactly what conservatives are doing. Earlier this month, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) declared, "I take pride with being an obstructionist." Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) has similarly said, "Maybe we could put something underneath that and say: 'Slow Down' or maybe in the language of my State 'Whoa.'" These talking points mirror a political memo written by conservative strategist Alex Castellanos, which advised, "If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it, and advance real reform that will actually help." Industry interests have been teaming up with conservatives on this strategy, with one lobbyist admitting that they are purposely "creating delays" in order to better seize any "opportunity to outright kill a proposal."

SPREADING LIES, INFLAMING FEARS: Conservatives are attempting to create these delays through misinformation and outright intimidation. A group called "Patients First," a project of the lobbyist-funded Americans for Prosperity, has been going around the country hosting tea parties in opposition to "government-run health care." Republicans are now attacking a small provision in the House bill that would allow Medicare to cover advanced care consulting. The Republican National Committee sent out a research document yesterday claiming the House legislation is encouraging euthanasia. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) went on the House floor and said it was placing "seniors in a position of being put to death by their government." Of course, these claims are baseless fear-mongering. The House bill would simply give seniors the option of speaking with an expert about advanced care issues, such as living wills. "This measure would not only help people make the best decisions for themselves but also better ensure that their wishes are followed," responded AARP Executive Vice President John Rother. "To suggest otherwise is a gross, and even cruel, distortion."