Obamacare facts separated from spin by Wendell Potter, FactCheck.org

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Two excellent reader comments caught my eye this week, in response to Wendell Potter’s latest column separating fact from fiction on the Affordable Care Act, AKA Obamacare.

First there was:

“THANK YOU for this column! I'm so exhausted with the insane rhetoric about just getting healthcare to all our people, and this gives me some information so I can respond to some of that ridiculous hysteria.”

And second:

“Misleading information, sloppy coverage are confusing the public about Obamacare. Considering all the intentionally misleading information we are being subjected to about Obamacare from politicians and special interests with an obvious agenda, it will be vitally important for reporters to be more responsible in their reporting.”

Google “Obamacare myths” and you’ll come up with about 8,000 results. Many of the most important provisions of the 2010 law have not taken effect yet, but three years of controversy, legal challenges, deliberate misrepresentations and 40 attempts to repeal it by the U.S. House of Representatives have all taken their toll. Polls show about half of all Americans don’t know enough about the law to see how it will — or will not — affect their families.

In his own version of Obamacare myths, Bill Keller wrote in the New York Times last year that a number of fallacies (it’s a job killer, it’s a federal takeover of health insurance, etc.) “seem to be congealing into accepted wisdom. Much of this is the result of unrelenting Republican propaganda and right-wing punditry, but it has gone largely unchallenged by gun-shy Democrats.”

With new state health insurance marketplaces (known in the law as exchanges) set to enroll people in coverage starting Oct. 1, the distortions, including misleading advertising, seem to be ramping up. Enter Wendell Potter the Center for Public Integrity’s own myth-buster. Wendell is a former health insurance industry insider-turned-whistleblower who writes with clarity and insight about healthcare in ways that others in the media have sometimes come up short.  

Yes, the plan is complex, as Potter told me, and advocates have not done an adequate job of explaining it. Of course, it is always easier to condemn and confuse than it is to explain and educate. He believes the law is misunderstood for a combination of reasons. It has been very political from the beginning, with the GOP viewing it as a continuing campaign issue that appeals to its base of supporters. And politicians are only too happy to exploit it for their own political purposes.

Potter believes the media itself has not done its job well enough, especially in steering clear of those with an interest to peddle or an agenda to sell. Obamacare news coverage has too often been driven by Washington politics, as part of an ongoing political campaign, rather than by the substance of the law, which only contributes to the public’s perplexity.

Last May, Potter addressed some of the myths and realities of Obamacare. He noted that: “Two of the most important provisions of the law [Republicans] profess to hate were actually Republican ideas the Democrats embraced in hopes of getting bipartisan support for reform.”

The first such provision is the requirement that all Americans not covered by a public plan like Medicare or Medicaid must buy coverage from a private insurance company. The second provision is that the state health insurance marketplaces or exchanges would be places where private insurers could compete online for customers.

Besides Potter, FactCheck.org, an impartial truth squad, has also been busy comparing facts to political rhetoric. In its latest report (Louie Gohmert’s Health Care Hooey), FactCheck.org found that Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert “is wrong when he says a ‘poor guy out there making $14,000’ is ‘going to pay extra income tax if he cannot afford to pay the several thousand dollars for an Obamacare policy.’”

“In fact, that poor guy will be eligible for Medicaid coverage or heavily subsidized private insurance, depending on where he lives, without fear of being penalized if he cannot afford insurance.

Meanwhile, the Republican National Committee has its own list of 57 “Coordinates for a Train Wreck,” or Obamacare by the Numbers. However, as FactCheck.org noted, the RNC list includes a number of serious mistakes. For example, they claim “that 8.2 million Americans can’t find full-time jobs ‘partly due to ObamaCare.’ But that figure is the total number of part-time workers in the U.S. seeking full-time work.”

“The RNC also claims 6 million retirees ‘will lose prescription drug coverage’ under the health care law. But 6 million aren’t expected to go without drug coverage. Instead, they are expected to lose employer-sponsored drug plans and join other Medicare Part D plans instead.”

FactCheck.org found other “well-worn distortions” in the RNC list, along with items that were true: “the gross cost of insurance coverage provisions in the law do add up to $1.8 trillion for 2014 to 2023, according to the nonpartisan CBO, and the law’s 10 percent excise tax on indoor tanning services would amount to $1.5 billion over 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.”

FactCheck.org also faulted President Obama’s recent press conference statement for overpromising on premiums. “President Obama claimed that all of the currently uninsured would be able to get coverage on the exchanges ‘at a significantly cheaper rate than what they can get right now on the individual market’ even without federal tax credits. But even Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said that younger Americans would likely pay more on the exchanges, while those who are older would likely pay less.”

One fact that is important to know is that most Americans will not be affected by the changes. As Wendell Potter has explained, in a country of 315 million people, “only 15 million — less than 5 percent of us — currently buy health insurance on our own through the so-called individual market because it’s not available to us through the workplace.”

The vast majority of Americans — about 55 percent — are, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, enrolled in health insurance plans sponsored by our employers. Another 32 percent of us are enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs. That means, Potter said, that “almost nine out of 10 of us will not be affected at all by rates insurers will charge next year in the individual market.”

Keeping up with an accurate understanding of the healthcare changes taking place has almost become a full-time job Thank goodness there are careful purveyors of the truth, such as Wendell Potter and FactCheck.org, to help us all with this process.

Until next week,
Bill