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  Media Disseminated Myths about Obamacare
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Media Disseminated Myths about Obamacare

Who is fooling who?

by Stephen Lendman
Thursday, 19 November 2009

In attacking the "liberal media," the right-wing Business & Media Institute's report claimed that "Network news fails to examine high cost and proven failures of government-run health care" even though House and Senate bills are rigorously private and enrich institutional providers hugely at the public's expense.

Pro or con, major media spin distorts, exaggerates, and lies to avoid key truths on this critically important issue. After the House passed HR 3962: Affordable Health Care for America Act, a November 11 Nation magazine editorial (likely by editor, publisher, and part-owner Katrina vanden Heuvel) admitted the bill's faults, yet praised it saying:

"something remarkable happened on November 7 when the House voted 220-215 for legislation that the Congressional Budget Office says will extend insurance coverage to 36 million uncovered the House bill there is certainly something to work with, and something to fight for."

Earlier on MSNBC's Morning Joe, she hailed the moment as "a historic day....a victory in Congress....this is the most important piece of legislation we've seen in decades."

In a September 9 article titled, "Obama Shows His Progressive Spine," vanden Heuval praised his "plain-spoken, at times tough, and masterful address to a joint session of congress....about the importance of healthcare reform as a test of our nation's character."

Never mind how HR 3962's 1,990 pages ration care to enrich the insurance, drug and large hospital chain cartels that love it but want more. Insurers especially are lobbying furiously for its no public-option dream bill to give them an open field for millions more customers returning billions more profits.

The drug cartel endorsed HR 3962 for the millions more customers it'll get, forced to pay 70% more on average than consumers in other OECD countries, according to a 2008 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) study.

On November 15, New York Times writer, Duff Wilson headlined, "Drug Makers Raise Prices in Face of Health Care Reform" in explaining that the industry raised wholesale brand name prices about 9% in the last year when the CPI fell 1.3%. According to industry analysts, it added more than $10 billion to the cost that will exceed $300 billion this year.

The RWJF study also showed insurance company administrative costs to be six times higher than in other developed countries. They go for marketing (including sales and advertising), claims processing, utilization review, high executive pay, and profits - providing no care, just needless costs that universal single-payer coverage can eliminate but won't because Congress won't touch it.

The New York Times Endorses Obamacare

Earlier this year, Times editorials expressed support. An August 8 one titled, "The Massachusetts Model" used false arguments in defense, not for improving the health of state residents, but to show "it is more than possible to insure (most of them) and stay within planned budgets," yet profit insurers hugely and will continue to because containing "rising costs....will take great creativity and political will."

Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) called the Massachusetts Plan "A Failed Model for Health Care Reform" in a February 18, 2009 report stating:

"Back in 1988, Massachusetts passed a universal health care law very similar to the 2006" one mandating universal state coverage. "Since 1988, many states - Oregon, Minnesota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington and Maine - have enacted (similar) reform aimed at achieving universal coverage. All failed."

While differing in detail, they "shared comment elements. (They) offered new public subsidies or expanded Medicaid for poor and near-poor people. (They) left the majority of private health insurance arrangements undisturbed, although many included new insurance regulations or state purchasing pools to help make affordable coverage available to individuals or small businesses. Some (Massachusetts 1988, Oregon 1992, Washington State 1993) contained mandates on employers or self-employed individuals."

The reforms achieved no more than "a temporary dent in the number of uninsured. (They) failed because they did not include effective cost-control measures. (As they rose), legislatures backed off from forcing employers and the self-employed from paying ever-rising premiums and the mandates were repealed." The 2006 Massachusetts model faces the same challenges, and since enacted, many remain uninsured because coverage is unaffordable. PNHP stated:

Massachusetts "failed to ensure the availability of comprehensive plans at affordable prices. Despite the merging of the small group and individual insurance markets, which was expected to lower costs in the individual market, premiums continue to be unaffordable for even the least comprehensive (skimpiest) plans..The private insurance plans available through the Commonwealth Choice program can be extremely expensive....It is not surprising that many of the state's uninsured have declined such coverage."

In addition, "Access to Insurance Does Not Guarantee Access to Care....For some state residents, the reform has actually made access worse....Many low-income residents had been eligible for completely free care (including medications) under the state's old free care system." Not under the new one because insurance policies "require co-payments for office visits and prescriptions, which are difficult for many low-income patients to pay."

Middle-income residents are also strapped by high premiums and provisions requiring co-pays, deductibles, and uncovered services. In addition, the plan "decimated the state's safety net" to ensure health insurer profits, and more recently, economic conditions created a $1.4 billion budget gap forcing Gov. Deval Patrick to cut $150 million from promised payments to the state's two largest safety-net health institutions - Boston Medical Center and Cambridge Health Alliance.

As of February 2009, they rolled back essential services, and closed one hospital and several neighborhood health centers. As a result, their most needy patients can't access care, and a similar situation exists throughout the country because budget-strapped states are cutting services for residents most in need of them.

More New York Times Support for Obamacare

After passage of HR 3962, The Times again approved in a November 14 editorial titled, "Reform and Medical Costs." While recognizing "the relentless rise in health care costs and health insurance premiums," and no easy fix to contain them:

"The good news is that the bill just approved by the House and a bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee would implement or test many reforms that should help slow the rise in medical costs over the long term."

Again, the argument is cynical and disingenuous in defense of House and Senate plans that will ration care and boost industry profits, mainly for the insurance and drug cartels.

According to The Times, a notorious shill for corporate interests, "unnecessary care" is the real problem "delivered by doctors and hospitals, which often perform a lot more tests and treatments than a patient really needs."

Unmentioned is the real problem - access to affordable, effective care under a profit-driven system where costs are so high millions can't afford them, especially for exorbitant insurance premiums.

Unmentioned is the real problem - access to affordable, effective care under a profit-driven system where costs are so high millions can't afford them, especially for exorbitant insurance premiums.

Nor does The Times address Medicare cuts of $570 billion in the House bill, over $400 billion in the Senate Finance Committee's, or a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) study saying "permanent annual productivity adjustments to price updates for institutional providers" will cut $282 billion in services. Thus, cost increases may force them to reduce care or opt out of Medicare altogether, jeopardizing access for its beneficiaries.

The Times endorses taxing so-called "Cadillac" plans, ones mostly covering state employees, municipal union members, and other working Americans, not just the rich. It also ignores how many Americans both House and Senate bills leave uninsured - 18 million in HR 3962 and 25 million under the Senate version. And House abortion restrictions, mostly affecting working class women and the poor, violate the law.

In supporting corporate interests and a class-based society, The Times showed contempt for ordinary Americans.

In supporting corporate interests and a class-based society, The Times showed contempt for ordinary Americans who'll get less access to affordable, effective care if Obamacare is enacted, especially seniors under Medicare.

Media Matters for America "Myths and falsehoods about health care reform - the latest in a series of reports identifying and debunking" misreporting on the issue

Below are selected examples.

Myth: The federal deficit will explode under the House bill.

Fact Check:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated budget reductions of $104 billion (updated to $109 billion) during the first decade, and "slight" further ones in the next decade.

Myth: The House bill doesn't coverage its costs.

Fact Check:

The CBO estimated that "the net cost of the coverage expansions would be more than offset by the combination of other spending changes, which CBO estimates would save $426 billion, and receipts resulting from the income tax surcharge on high-income individuals and other provisions, which JCT (Joint Committee on Taxation) and CBO estimate would increase federal revenues by $572 billion" over 10 years.

Myth: The House bill prohibits selling private insurance.

Fact Check:

Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Bachmann (R. MN) and others claim what's patently false. Private insurers will profit hugely under both House and Senate bills, even with a public option under which only six million will qualify in HR 3962.

Myth: HR 3962 ends tax credits for small businesses.

Fact Check:

The provision critics cite actually adds an additional tax credit, available for small businesses.

Myth: The House bill creates "death panels."

Fact Check:

The bill provides voluntary, Medicare-subsidized end-of-life counseling sessions, not "death panels."

Myth: HR 3962 provides coverage for undocumented immigrants.

Fact Check:

The bill stipulates that individuals "not lawfully present" may not receive subsidies to purchase insurance.

Myth: Tax hikes will finance a public option.

Fact Check:

The House bill finances it by premiums for administrative costs as well as the cost of enrollee benefits, not taxes.

Myth: The public opposes a public option.

Fact Check:

Recent polls showed widespread support. An October 30 - November 1 CNN/Opinion Research one found 55% favor "creating a public health insurance option administered by the federal government that would compete with plans offered by private health insurance companies." Other October polls got similar results of up to 57% public support.

Myth: Health care reform is unconstitutional.

Fact Check:

Legal experts, like George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, explain that Congress has regulatory authority over healthcare in interstate commerce and repeatedly passed laws regarding care and insurance.

Myth: Prominent healthcare reform critics are credible.

Fact Check:

Newt Gingrich, for example, has a financial and political stake in opposing reform proposals. He may return to public life, and his Center for Health Transformation gets annual fees from several major health insurance companies. Gingrich, like others on the right, is a notorious liar and flack for corporate interests.

Betsy McCaughey is a former New York Lieutenant Governor (1995 - 1998) and Big Tobacco shill during the 1994 health care debate. In Wall Street Journal and New York Post op-eds (both Rupert Murdoch-owned), she repeatedly lied and misinformed - notably claiming the House bill would "absolutely require" end-of-life counseling "that will tell them how to end their life sooner."

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a right-wing group promoting controversial medical and health views, including urging doctors to opt out of Medicare. It's against health care reform and endorsed "tea party" opposition to it.

Myth: Obamacare is "socialized medicine."

Fact Check:

In both House and Senate bills, Obamacare is rigorously private.

A Media Matters analysis of 16 reform efforts since the 1930s showed conservatives called them all "socialized medicine," or a step in that direction. In both House and Senate bills, Obamacare is rigorously private.

The Right-Wing Media Research Center's Business & Media Institute's (MRC's B&MI) "Uncritical Condition" Report

In attacking the "liberal media," it claimed that "Network news fails to examine high cost and proven failures of government-run health care" even though House and Senate bills are rigorously private and enrich institutional providers hugely at the public's expense.

MRC's B&MI "examined 224 stories about health care on the three broadcast networks' morning and evening shows that aired between Jan. 20, the date of Obama's inauguration, and June 24, the night of ABC's prime time town hall special on health care." Its false conclusions included the following:

  • the networks "barely discuss(ed) (the CBO's estimate of) one proposed (bill of) $1.6 trillion (while leaving roughly 36 million people uninsured according to the Washington Times). Yet, only 20 network stories (9%) referenced estimates even close to that number;" the correct House bill CBO estimates were covered above, way below MRC's B&MI's figures;
  • an April 29 Good Morning America report and others saying about "50 million Americans" uninsured were "wrong by a margin of 4-to-1 (80 percent); in fact, credible estimates placed the uninsured number at 47 million in 2007 before the current economic crisis, and a May 2009 Health published Todd Gilmer -Richard Kronick study estimated that:
    1. 44,230 Americans lose coverage weekly;
    2. 191,670 monthly;
    3. 2.3 million annually; and
    4. by yearend 2010, another 6.9 million will be without it unless effective policy measures prevent it.

MRC's B&MI report is riddled with misinformation and gross inaccuries, including saying:

  • Obamacare's intention is to "remake approximately one-sixth of the entire US economy;"
  • "the three (broadcast) networks have joined Obama's campaign for change (in) favor(ing) proponents to critics by a margin of more than 2-to-one;"
  • they also ignored the "exorbitant" cost;
  • they "glossed over the shortcomings of Medicare - a government-run health insurance program already bound for insolvency;"
  • ABC's Tim Johnson "blatantly cheered for big-government solutions;"
  • "none of the networks (examined claims about) government programs (being) largely responsible for skyrocketing health care expenditures;"
  • critics warn that "a public insurance plan would kill private insurance because people would dump (it) for the government program....Lewin Group data (show that) 107.6 million people could lose private employer coverage under such a plan;"
  • Obama wants a "Medicare-like public option, but Medicare's in ruins;" and
  • "conservative health care policy experts argue that government is the root of problems in the US health care system, so increased government involvement is (the wrong) solution."

The report said network media coverage limited debate, and reporters violated their professional standards "by not balancing proponents and opponents of ObamaCare, downplaying huge costs, letting the administration drive coverage, not exposing government health care failures, and in some cases openly advocating for universal care."

MRC's B&MI opposes change, endorses private sector-run health care, calls Obamacare "socialized medicine," and ducks its real aim - to enrich the insurance, drug and large hospital chain cartels at the expense of real reform covering everyone under a universal, single-payer system. Everyone in. No one out getting affordable, effective care, the kind right-wing media and other dark forces oppose and disseminate misinformation to prevent it.

Steve Lendman

Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at

Also visit his blog site at and listen to The Global Research News Hour on Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US Central time for cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on world and national topics. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.

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This story was published on November 19, 2009.

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