Dear Editor: Over the years, I’ve become sick and tired of the staff-written rants of our know-nothing Congressman Geoff Davis that appear in my hometown paper. Each Wednesday, like clockwork, we get the spin according to the talking heads of “Fixed News” or His Immense Acreage Rush Limbaugh on the hot-button political issue du jour.
Last week’s screed on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) took the cake. Like the little boy who told everyone that the Emperor had no clothes, I’m telling you that your congressman is full of it.
On the subject of the Affordable Care Act, a number of fallacies 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 spineless Democrats.
I’m ready to challenge.
For example, Mr. Davis points out that in order to finance Obamacare, all kinds of taxes are needed – even on the sales of houses. Oh no, the sky is falling!
What he does not tell you is this: “It is the unfounded rumor that never dies: You will have to pay a 3.8 percent federal health-care tax on the sale of your house. For all but a handful of taxpayers, this is not true. It is wrong. It is urban myth. It is the revenue equivalent of death panels.” Forbes magazine website, April 2, 2012. (Forbes is not exactly a left-wing rag.)
The truth is, only a tiny percentage of homesellers will pay the tax. First of all, only those with incomes surpassing $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) will be subject to it. And even for those who have such high incomes, the tax still won’t apply to the first $250,000 on profits from the sale of a personal residence — or to the first $500,000 in the case of a married couple selling their home.
Let’s look at some other lies.
1. Obamacare is a job-killer.
FACT: Some of the job-killer scare stories are based on a deliberate misreading of a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated the law would “reduce the amount of labor used in the economy” by about 800,000 jobs. Sounds like a job-killer, right? Not if you read what the C.B.O. actually wrote. While some low wage jobs might be lost, the C.B.O. number mainly refers to workers who — being no longer so dependent on employers for their health-care safety net — may choose to retire earlier or work part time. Those jobs would then be open for others who need them.
The impartial truth squad FactCheck.org has debunked the job-killer claim so many times that it now uses words like “whopper,” “bogus” and “hooey.” The job-killer claim is also discredited by the experience under the Massachusetts law on which Obamacare was modeled. (See “Will Health Reform Lead to Job Loss? Evidence from Massachusetts Says No.” Timely Analysis of Immediate Health Policy Issues, June 2012 by Lisa Dubay, Sharon K. Long, and Emily Lawton)
2. Obamacare is partially funded by cuts to Medicare.
FACT: Funding for Medicare will actually increase over the next 10 years. However, the rate of increase will drop, partially due to more aggressive prosecution of fraud and a reduction in overpayments to insurance companies.
In fact, the ACA has already increased funding to Medicare in some ways. It has increased the minimum rebate on drugs, extended coverage to smaller hospitals, set up public health screenings for Medicare recipients, and it introduced a discount to help cover the Medicare “doughnut hole” on prescriptions, a period during which senior citizens must pay 100 percent of their prescription-drug costs before they reach a certain point; then, they are only responsible for 5 percent of those costs.The plan is to eliminate the doughnut hole by 2020.
3. Obamacare will introduce “death panels” to ration care, forcing elderly parents to commit suicide ore submit to euthanasia.
FACT: Introduced by Sarah Palin in 2009, the idea that health-care reform will lead to euthanasia is one of the most persistent lies surrounding Obamacare. There have been several versions of this claim; the most recent is that the Independent Payment Advisory Board will ration care and will make end-of-life decisions for patients.
In truth, the IPAB is basically powerless. It will make health care policy recommendations to Congress, which will then have the ability to pass or reject those suggestions. The president, in turn, will have the power to veto Congress’ decisions -- as he can with any other piece of legislation.
Ironically, “death panels” already existed before health-care reform -- but they were run by your insurance company. Insurers have regularly denied coverage for pre-existing conditions; canceled policies on sick patients; refused to pay for vital, life-saving operations; and otherwise made financially-based decisions about who would get to live and who would be left to die.
According to one congressional report, three insurance companies -- UnitedHealth, WellPoint and Assurant -- saved $300 million by canceling policies on more than 20,000 sick clients in a five-year period. The new health-care law will make many of these practices illegal. In other words, rather than creating death panels, Obamacare will actually abolish them.
4. Obamacare will force the middle class to pay for health care for the poor and for illegal immigrants.
FACT: Many health-care reform critics have argued that America already has a universal health care option: emergency rooms. After all, the argument goes, when people without insurance find themselves in desperate need of medical attention, they can always find help in ERs, which are required by law to open their doors to anyone in need of care. Consequently, critics claim, poor people can get health care without passing the charges on to the middle class.
But this health care isn’t free -- in fact, standard treatment through a primary care physician is far cheaper than crisis care in an ER. Many hospitals aggressively bill emergency patients -- and their insurers -- to recoup the inflated costs of such care. Even so, they come up short.
So who covers the shortfalls? Well, a significant source of hospital funding is taxes. For the rest, hospitals make up their ER losses by inflating the prices that insured customers pay -- and according to the Center for American Progress, this amounts to a $1,100 yearly “hidden tax” on health insurance. Put simply, emergency room care is already funded by taxpayers and the insured middle class.
Granted, Obamacare will extend Medicaid to lower income families, and will subsidize health insurance for people who make up to 400% of the poverty line. On the other hand, it will also require people who can pay for health insurance do so, and will more aggressively prosecute Medicare fraud. More to the point, it will levy a 0.9% tax on households making more than $200,000 per year, and will increase taxes on medical machinery manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and insurers. Thus, it will, in all likelihood, actually reduce the burden on middle-class families.
5. Obamacare is a socialist program.
FACT: The Tennessee Valley Authority, the Veterans Administration and subsidies to wealthy farmers are socialist.
Obamacare simply turns private insurance companies into heavily regulated utilities. Far from competing with private industry, the new health-care law will likely give private insurers a lot of new customers.
And by the way, single payer is the answer.
It is regrettable that Mr. Davis is retiring, as I was looking for a low-stress, not-very-taxing part-time position for my impending retirement. I had intended to apply for the job of Congressman Davis’ fact-checker.
Joseph S. Yates
New Castle, Kentucky
(The writer also refers to these sources for his letter: “Five Myths,” by Bruce Watson, senior features writer, Daily Finance website, and Bill Keller in “The New York Times,” July 18, 2012.)