Five Health Care Reform Lies

09/13/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
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With Congress preparing to vote on health care reform this fall, talk of what's in the major House bill has been dominating the news and political blogs. Unfortunately, the public discourse about health care reform has been harmed by false claims, scare tactics, and lies.

At OpenCongress, we've had the official text of the House health care bill available online for a month for people to read and get the facts: H.R. 3200 '' America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. And in this debate, the facts really matter -- it's imperative that as a nation we read the actual text of the bill and actively work to counter any blatant misinformation about it. To be sure, it's a long bill, and not easy to understand at first read. But whether you support or oppose this bill, we hope you agree that the irresponsible hearsay surrounding it is hurting the public understanding and legislative debate on health care.

We believe it is possible for every American to be educated about what H.R. 3200 proposes to do and to share these important facts with their friends and families. To that end, we publish this debunking of incorrect claims regarding H.R. 3200 by citing and linking to the empirically-verifiable sections of the official bill text. Let's look at the facts together:

Lie #1: The Health Care bill would set up government death panels

This lie has been widely circulated over email and in blog posts, recently and most prominently by Sarah Palin, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and others. Their claim is that language in the bill relating to "advance care planning consultations" would set up mandatory meetings in which government "death panels" would force senior citizens and others to sign some sort of early death pact. In reality, the bill language seeks to require Medicare to cover the cost of counseling sessions with doctors on end-of-life issues if a person chooses to have one. Currently, these kinds of sessions aren't covered by Medicare, and people without extra money often can't afford to have them.

Here's an interview with Republican Sen. John Isakson of Georgia, the lawmaker who has been pushing hardest over the years to get this passed. He calls Palin's comment "nuts" that her "baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's death panel," and says the provision is about giving people the authority to decide if they want an end-of-life consultation. "It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you."

Lie #2: The bill would make private health insurance illegal

This falsehood comes from a widely circulated Investor's Business Daily editorial claiming that a provision towards the beginning of the bill would "outlaw individual private coverage." The portion of the bill they are referencing, Sec. 102 (a), defines "grandfathered health insurance coverage" and reads as follows: "Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law."

Read the actual legislative text in context>>

... and when you do, scroll down a little to subsection c, which states that "Individual health insurance coverage that is not grandfathered health insurance coverage under subsection (a) may only be offered on or after the first day of Y1 as an Exchange-participating health benefits plan." In other words, after the bill becomes law, all new health insurance plans would have to be purchased through the Health Insurance Exchange, which, according to a House committee summary, is a �marketplace for individuals and small employers to comparison shop among private and public insurers.� The provision Investor's Business Daily latched onto in is, in reality, all about increasing choice and competition in the marketplace between both public and private health insurance options, not limiting choice.

Lie #3: The bill will give free health care to illegal immigrants

A viral email has been going around that claims to be a page-by-page analysis of the bill, but is actually just a bunch of made-up non-sense. The email persists in dozens of intentional misreadings and unfounded, unverified claims, but to knock down just one of them � one of the lines reads, �Pg 50 Section 152 in HC bill � HC will be provided to ALL non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.�

It states: �Except as otherwise explicitly permitted by this Act and by subsequent regulations consistent with this Act, all health care and related services (including insurance coverage and public health activities) covered by this Act shall be provided without regard to personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services.�

Now, the only section of the bill that could possibly be interpreted as �free health care� is Subtitle C, the �Individual Affordability Credits� section. The subtitle sets up a system of income-based credits for helping low-income people buy health insurance. At the end of the subtitle, it states clearly, �Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.� Going back to the section of the bill that was highlighted in the email, this prohibition on funds for illegal immigrants clearly qualifies under the language, �Except as otherwise explicitly permitted by this Act.� The email�s claim otherwise is demonstrably false. The rest of the email�s wild claims can be similarly disproved by referencing the empirical text of H.R. 3200.

Lie #4 Federal money would be used to fund abortions

The same inaccurate email referenced above claims that two sections of the House bill would lead to �govt abortions.� House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has made similar claims. He stated in a National Review op-ed that the health care bill �will require [Americans] to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.� These claims, however, are false. There is nothing in the bill that would override the 1976 Hyde Amendment (full text of which is here in .pdf) prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions.

Abortion didn�t actually enter the Health Care debate until Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) won an amendment in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is designed to block taxpayer money from funding them. The Capps amendment would require that there be at least one health benefit plan providing coverage for abortions and one plan without such coverage in each state. If a public insurance plan did include abortion coverage, there would be a "segregation of funds" between federal money, namely in the form of affordability credits, and the individually paid premiums, which alone would fund abortion services. In summary: as under current federal law, no government funds would be used to pay for abortions under H.R. 3200, and anyone who claims otherwise has incorrect information.

Lie #5 The government will have direct, real-time access to individual bank accounts

This lie has been spread by Rush Limbaugh, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), and others. The false claim, as typified in this KFYI News piece, is that �Section 163 of the bill states that the government would be allowed real-time access to a person�s bank records � including direct access to bank accounts for electronic fund transfers.�

What this section refers to, as OpenCongress user kbarnard1367 points out, is not �real-time access to a person�s bank records,� but rather, real-time access for health care providers to information relating to a person�s insurance coverage:

"What�s the first thing you give the doctor? Your health insurance card. What do they do with it? Call the insurance company to see if you still have insurance. So instead of a phone call and a 5 minute wait the nice receptionist swipes your card in her computer and sends a message down the internet and gets a near �Real time� response that says yes this person still has insurance with us. Your pharmacy has been doing this for years.

� in other words, this section of the actual bill does not do what Limbaugh and Rep. Shadegg and others claim. They are demonstrably wrong (see above). It is simply a check on the status of an individual�s insurance coverage, one that already happens today and would be required under any possible system built on individual health insurance.

A few lines down, another section of the bill has been targeted as the part that would supposedly provide the government with private financial information.

One line of the section attempt to standardize electronic administrative transactions, such as electronic fund transfers that occur between insurance companies and health care providers for the purpose of administrative simplification. Another line would enable electronics funds transactions to allow �automated reconciliation� of health care costs. This would basically amount to nothing more than an automatic online bill-pay system for people to pay their premiums every month.

There is no language in H.R. 3200 that would make it legal for the government to have �direct, real-time access to individual bank accounts.� The bill even includes basic requirements that all personal data that is collected under the provisions is used in a matter that meets privacy and security laws, and it restricts �inappropriate� uses, �including use of such data in determinations of eligibility (or continued eligibility) in health plans.�

We welcome your questions and comments about the debunking above, as well as your suggested additions and factual clarifications -- just send us an email: But more importantly, write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel about H.R. 3200. Join or login to your free �My OpenCongress� profile in order to take full advantage of all the ways the site empowers you to get involved with Congress. For more ways individuals and organizations can use OpenCongress to keep their communities up-to-date with the latest about the issues they care about, visit our friendly how-to guide.

On the bill page for H.R. 3200 you can see more useful resources, including :: official Congressional actions, recent news coverage, highest-rated blog coverage, top-rated user comments, a free bill status widget (or grab a Congress, I�m Watching widget), links to dozens more Hot Bills by issue area, and more. In the right-hand sidebar of the bill page there are built-in tools to read the full official bill text, give a personal vote �aye� or �nay�, write your Representative with your opinion directly from that page, subscribe to bill updates over RSS or email alerts, share that bill over social networking services (e.g. Facebook) and social sharing/bookmarking services (e.g. Digg, Reddit), send us feedback, and more.

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