It is a good thing that other congressmen did not follow Rep. Joe Wilson’s lead. If they yelled out every time President Obama said something untrue about health care, they would quickly find themselves growing hoarse.
By our count, the president made more than 20 inaccurate claims in his speech to Congress. We have excluded several comments that are deeply misleading but not outright false. (For example: Obama pledged not to tap the Medicare trust fund to pay for reform. But there is no money in that “trust fund,” anyway, so the pledge is meaningless.) Even so, we may have missed one or more false statements by the president. Our failure to include one of his comments in the following list should not be taken to constitute an endorsement of its accuracy, let alone wisdom.
1. “Buying insurance on your own costs you three times as much as the coverage you get from your employer.” The Congressional Budget Office writes, “Premiums for policies purchased in the individual insurance market are, on average, much lower — about one-third lower for single coverage and one-half lower for family policies.” It is true that individual insurance policies are generally 30 percent less comprehensive than employer-provided insurance, and comparable individual policies are about twice as expensive. But much of the extra cost is a function of the tax penalty on purchasing such insurance and the stunted market that penalty has yielded.
2.“There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage.”An outright falsehood, whetheryou use the president’s noncitizen-free estimate or the standard, questionable estimate of 46 million uninsured residents.
A study prepared for the federal government estimates that 9 million people counted as “uninsured” in the standard estimate are in fact enrolled in Medicaid. The left-leaning Urban Institute estimates that 12 million are eligible but not enrolled, meaning they could get coverage at any time. Health economists Mark Pauly of the University of Pennsylvania and Kate Bundorf of Stanford estimate that one quarter to three quarters of the uninsured can afford to purchase coverage, but choose not to do so.
3.“And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage.” The paper that generated this estimate assumed that two months of severe job losses would continue forever. Applying that paper’s methodology to a broader period of rising unemployment (January 2008 through August 2009) produces a figure below 9,000.
It also assumes those coverage losses are permanent. Like many of the 46 million Americans we label “uninsured,” many of those 9,000 will regain coverage after a number of months. (David Freddoso illustrates the absurdity of assuming that all coverage losses are permanent.)
4. “One man from Illinois lost his coverage in the middle of chemotherapy. . . . They delayed his treatment, and he died because of it.” He didn’t die because of it. The originator of this false claim, a writer for Slate named Timothy Noah, has admitted he got it wrong.
5. “Another woman from Texas was about to get a double mastectomy when her insurance company canceled her policy because she forgot to declare a case of acne.” Scott Harrington supplied more facts in the Wall Street Journal: “The woman’s testimony at the June 16 hearing confirms that her surgery was delayed several months. It also suggests that the dermatologist’s chart may have described her skin condition as precancerous, that the insurer also took issue with an apparent failure to disclose an earlier problem with an irregular heartbeat, and that she knowingly underreported her weight on the application.” The woman deserves sympathy, but Obama has stretched the truth here.
6. Rising costs are “why so many employers . . . are forcing their employees to pay more for insurance.” Perhaps no other issue generates as much of a consensus among health-care economists as this one: The “employer’s share” of employees’ health-care costs comes out of those employees’ wages, not out of profits. In this comment and in five others in his speech, Obama contradicts that basic truth. Employers aren’t forcing their employees to pick up a larger share of the bill because they can’t. Workers are already paying the entire bill.