KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Sorting Out The Truth In The Health Care Debate

News outlets try to help people sort through what's real and what's not in the health overhaul debate.

The New York Times  reports in a "primer on the details of health reform" that Republican criticism of a government-run insurance plan to compete with private health insurance as "socialized medicine" "seems overblown," it reports. "The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that, under the House bill, the number of people with employer-sponsored insurance would climb to 162 million in 2016, which is 3 million more than expected under current law. Further, it said, enrollment in the proposed public plan might total 11 million, far lower than estimates cited by Republicans."

The Times reports on blaming insurers: "Most Americans do not know the full cost of their employer-sponsored insurance. And it is easier for Democrats to paint insurers as greedy than to explain the complex math that shows current health care spending is unsustainable."

And it also reports on the facts behind how reform will affect the deficit: "The Congressional Budget Office has yet to issue cost estimates for the latest versions of the bill approved by three House committees. But it has warned that the legislation 'would probably generate substantial increases in federal budget deficits' beyond 2019, in part because health costs are rising faster than the rate of inflation and proposed new taxes would not keep up" (Pear and Herszenhorn, 8/9).

The Los Angeles Times examines the claim that the legislation includes "provisions to encourage senior citizens to commit suicide:" "This has become one of the most misleading, inflammatory claims made in the healthcare debate. … The House bill would give seniors on Medicare the choice to sit down with a doctor for an 'advance care planning consultation' every five years to discuss options should they become seriously ill or unable to make medical decisions. Topics could include the development of a living will and directives for care."

It is unclear if the government would start paying for abortions, however, the LA Times reports. "Neither House nor Senate versions of the healthcare legislation contains any requirement that federal funding be made available for abortions. … The legislation is short on many details. Depending on how regulations are written, some women who got federally subsidized insurance might be able to buy plans that cover abortions" (Levey, 8/10) 

The Buffalo News: "If residents of Rep. Chris Lee's district believe him, they will think that 'independent analysts' say a Democrat-backed health care reform plan 'would result in as many as 120 million Americans losing their current coverage.' Well, no. It's not that simple."

"And anyone who watched President Obama's July 22 news conference might think that a reformed health system 'would be paid for.' Um, not at this point, any way."

"So it goes these days in the overheated, overstated and deeply misleading debate that's sweeping America over congressional efforts to reform the nation's health care system ... The untruths are coming from both sides, but the biggest whoppers are coming from those committed to killing the Democratic reform efforts" (Zremski, 8/10).

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the White House is trying to fight back: "Facing an onslaught of opposition to health reform, the White House on Monday opened a 'Reality Check' website with viral tool aimed at online combat on everything from 'rationing' to euthanasia. ... The new White House site has built-in tools allowing users to email every page and video to their friends and families, and is linked to social networks with preloaded messages to encourage folks to share the content" (Allen, 8/10).

Amid the din, "polls have consistently shown growing resistance to President Obama's reform proposals, largely because of concerns about the nation's deficit and debt," The Washington Times reports. "Polls have not always shown outright opposition to the specifics of Mr. Obama's desired goals -- something his allies have been quick to point out, if only to argue that the overall numbers render the polls useless or are a sign of confusion among the electorate.  But within the same polls that show support for a government-run insurance option or for higher taxes on top earners, there has been disapproval of the president's handling of health care reform. Those polls also show that support for Mr. Obama's reforms are trumped by fears that government spending is running away with the country's future" (Ward, 8/10).

NPR: "The battle over health care is sparking claims on both sides, but many of the assertions being made twist the facts and others are outright false, says the editor of a Web site that tracks the claims."

Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact and the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, tells Melissa Block that one group that opposes an overhaul says the health care bill allows illegal immigrants to get free medicine. 'We gave that our lowest rating on our Truth-O-Meter: a pants on fire,' he says. 'To the contrary, there's language [in the bill] that says that undocumented aliens would not be eligible for the credit under this plan.'"

"Bogus claims aren't just coming from those who oppose an overhaul. Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri recently claimed that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the current plan would create a $6 billion surplus over 10 years. Adair's group has rated that as false" (All Things Considered, 8/7).

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