FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Fri, 03 Jul 2015 16:27:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Was Hillary Clinton the Original ‘Birther’? http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/was-hillary-clinton-the-original-birther/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/was-hillary-clinton-the-original-birther/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 17:21:08 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96967 Two Republican presidential candidates claim the so-called “birther” movement originated with the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008. While it’s true that some of her ardent supporters pushed the theory, there is no evidence that Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with it.

In an interview on June 29, Sen. Ted Cruz said “the whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008,” and earlier this year, Donald Trump claimed “Hillary Clinton wanted [Obama’s] birth certificate. Hillary is a birther.”

Neither Cruz nor Trump presented any evidence that Clinton or anyone on her campaign ever questioned Obama’s birthplace, demanded to see his birth certificate, or otherwise suggested that Obama was not a “natural born citizen” eligible to serve as president.

For those unfamiliar with the controversy over Obama’s birthplace, it refers to those who contend that Obama was born in Kenya and ineligible to be president.

At FactCheck.org, we have written about the issue of Obama’s birthplace on multiple occasions — indeed we were the first media organization to hold his birth certificate in our hot little hands and vouch for the authenticity of it. But facts have done little to squelch the conspiracy theories that continue to bounce around online.

The issue arose again this week in an interview with Cruz, who was born in Canada to an American mother and a Cuban father. Yahoo News’ Katie Couric asked Cruz if he thought that was going to be an issue for voters.

“It’s interesting, the whole birther thing was started by the Hillary Clinton campaign in 2008 against Barack Obama,” Cruz said (at about the 25:25 mark). Cruz then went on to say that he believes he clearly meets the constitutional requirement for a president to be a “natural born citizen.”

The claim about Clinton’s tie to “birthers” was made earlier by Donald Trump in February at the CPAC event (at 24:20 mark). Trump — who has a history of pushing bogus theories about Obama’s birth —  said, “Hillary Clinton wanted [Obama’s] birth certificate. Hillary is a birther. She wanted … but she was unable to get it.”

We asked the Cruz campaign for backup, and it pointed us to two articles. The first ran in Politico on April 22, 2011, under the headline, “Birtherism: Where it all began.”

Politico, April 22, 2011: The answer lies in Democratic, not Republican politics, and in the bitter, exhausting spring of 2008. At the time, the Democratic presidential primary was slipping away from Hillary Clinton and some of her most passionate supporters grasped for something, anything that would deal a final reversal to Barack Obama.

According to the article, the theory that Obama was born in Kenya “first emerged in the spring of 2008, as Clinton supporters circulated an anonymous email questioning Obama’s citizenship.”

The second article, which ran several days after the Politico piece, was published by the Telegraph, a British paper, which stated: “An anonymous email circulated by supporters of Mrs Clinton, Mr Obama’s main rival for the party’s nomination, thrust a new allegation into the national spotlight — that he had not been born in Hawaii.”

Both of those stories comport with what we here at FactCheck.org wrote two-and-a-half years earlier, on Nov. 8, 2008: “This claim was first advanced by diehard Hillary Clinton supporters as her campaign for the party’s nomination faded, and has enjoyed a revival among John McCain’s partisans as he fell substantially behind Obama in public opinion polls.”

Claims about Obama’s birthplace appeared in chain emails bouncing around the Web, and one of the first lawsuits over Obama’s birth certificate was filed by Philip Berg, a former deputy Pennsylvania attorney general and a self-described “moderate to liberal” who supported Clinton.

But none of those stories suggests any link between the Clinton campaign, let alone Clinton herself, and the advocacy of theories questioning Obama’s birth in Hawaii.

One of the authors of the Politico story, Byron Tau, now a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, told FactCheck.org via email that “we never found any links between the Clinton campaign and the rumors in 2008.”

The other coauthor of the Politico story, Ben Smith, now the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, said in a May 2013 interview on MSNBC that the conspiracy theories traced back to “some of [Hillary Clinton’s] passionate supporters,” during the final throes of Clinton’s 2008 campaign. But he said they did not come from “Clinton herself or her staff.”

Josh Schwerin, a spokesman for the Clinton campaign, said Cruz’s claim is false. “The Clinton campaign never suggested that President Obama was not born here,” Schwerin wrote to us in an email.

It is certainly interesting, and perhaps historically and politically relevant, that “birther” advocacy may have originated with supporters of Hillary Clinton — especially since many view it as an exclusively right-wing movement. But whether those theories were advocated by Clinton and/or her campaign or simply by Clinton “supporters” is an important distinction. Candidates are expected to be held accountable for the actions of their campaigns. Neither Cruz nor Trump, whose campaign did not respond to our request for backup material, provides any compelling evidence that either Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with starting the so-called birther movement.

— Robert Farley

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/was-hillary-clinton-the-original-birther/feed/ 0
Fiorina Shortchanges Marijuana Research http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/fiorina-shortchanges-marijuana-research/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/fiorina-shortchanges-marijuana-research/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 17:17:57 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96970 In questioning the value of medicinal marijuana, Carly Fiorina said “we don’t understand how it interacts with other drugs.” In fact, there is information about marijuana’s interactions with other medications, although major clinical trials using marijuana have been limited by its legal status.

Fiorina spoke with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, who asked her about the legal status of marijuana in Colorado (it also has been legalized in Washington). She said she believes in states’ rights but that legalizing marijuana is a “bad idea” (at the 30:20 mark):

Fiorina, June 25: I remember when I had cancer, my doctor asked me if I had an interest in medicinal marijuana. I did not, and he said good, because marijuana is a very complex chemical substance now, we don’t understand how it interacts with other drugs, we don’t understand what it does to your body.

The claim regarding drug interactions is not correct: Prescribing information for approved versions of medicinal marijuana does contain drug interaction information, and studies have turned up few problems in terms of interactions with cancer therapies, as well as other types of medication.

SciCHECKinsertTo be clear, there is still much to be learned about potential interactions with cannabis; its status as a schedule 1 drug makes it more difficult to study in clinical trials than other medications, meaning there is simply less information available. As a paper in the journal Pharmacotherapy in 2013 put it: “Because medical cannabis is not controlled or regularly used in mainstream medicine, the actual drug – disease and drug – drug interaction profiles remain to be elucidated.” That paper goes on, however, to list a number of interactions that are in fact known.

Some of these can be found in the prescribing information for the two approved forms of medicinal marijuana, Cesamet and Marinol. These contain synthetic versions of THC, a cannabinoid that is marijuana’s main ingredient, delivered in pill form. Fiorina was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, well after both of these agents had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (which did so as far back as 1985, with subsequent revisions). However, some of the studies we note below have been published in the years since her diagnosis. We contacted Fiorina’s campaign to ask for clarification on her comments, but we did not receive a reply.

The prescribing information for Cesamet, with the active ingredient nabilone, contains warnings regarding a number of potential interactions. These include additive depressive effects when combined with any central nervous system depressant and decreased clearance of drugs from the body when taken with barbiturates. Combined with antidepressants, nabilone could cause some cardiovascular problems including tachycardia (an elevated heart rate) and high blood pressure.

The prescribing information for Marinol (active ingredient dronabinol) is similar with regard to drug interactions. It warns that the agent “should be used with caution in patients receiving concomitant therapy with sedatives, hypnotics or other psychoactive drugs because of the potential for additive or synergistic [central nervous system] effects.” It also lists antidepressants, barbiturates and other agents that may have interactions with cannabinoids in general.

Some studies also have examined what potential effects the use of medicinal marijuana agents may have specifically on patients being treated for cancer, which was the context of Fiorina’s remarks. For example, one study published in The Oncologist in 2007 showed that medicinal cannabis delivered via herbal tea “does not significantly influence” how the drugs docetaxel and irinotecan function. Docetaxel is used to treat many cancers, including certain types of breast cancer, while irinotecan is most commonly used in colorectal malignancies.

Other studies have shown that cannabinoids do in fact interact with cancer drugs — synergistically, meaning they actually add to the beneficial effects. In one 2011 study published in Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, the combination of cannabinoids and temozolomide, a drug used to treat brain tumors, produced a strong anti-tumor effect in the very difficult-to-treat brain malignancy known as glioblastoma multiforme. In another study, published in 2011 in Cell Death & Disease, the same thing was observed in pancreatic cancer when medicinal marijuana was combined with gemcitabine, which is used in many cancers.

Outside of cancer, other beneficial effects have been seen in combination with other drugs. A study published in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 2011 showed that adding vaporized cannabis to opioids actually improved the control of chronic pain. The authors wrote that this could allow treatment of pain with lower doses of opioids, with fewer side effects.

In another field, a study showed that smoked or pill-form marijuana had no adverse effect on patients with HIV/AIDS, in spite of worries that the drug may interact with protease inhibitors used to prevent the virus from replicating in these patients. That study was published in Annals of Internal Medicine in 2003.

There is still much to be learned about medicinal marijuana, but it’s not accurate to say that “we don’t understand how it interacts with other drugs.”

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/07/fiorina-shortchanges-marijuana-research/feed/ 0
The Christie File http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/the-christie-file/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/the-christie-file/#comments Tue, 30 Jun 2015 13:50:43 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96934 New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie plans to officially announce his presidential candidacy this morning, joining an already crowded field vying for the Republican nomination. Christie has enjoyed high national visibility for years due to speculation about a run for the presidency and his recent stint as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and so many of his comments have come across our radar.

Most recently, we pointed out that Christie repeatedly, and wrongly, has said that U.S. corporations are taxed twice on income earned abroad, claiming in a June 10 speech that IRS officials “don’t recognize the tax you paid to a foreign country.” It’s true that the U.S. is “one of the few countries in the world,” as Christie put it, that subjects foreign earnings to both U.S. and host-country income taxes. But the IRS provides a foreign tax credit to prevent double taxation.

In May, Christie wrongly claimed that “we’ve had a huge shift from full-time work to part-time work” under President Obama. We noted that there was a “huge shift” in the percentage of all employees who work part-time — but the shift began under George W. Bush, coinciding with the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Since then, the part-timer ratio has been trending downward. In April, it was within one-tenth of 1 percentage point of where it was when Obama first took office. In fact, under Obama nearly half the effects of the recession on part-time work have been reversed.

In April, Christie said that if he were president, he would crack down on marijuana sales and use in Washington and Colorado, which in 2012 were the first two states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Christie said that marijuana is a “gateway drug” and contributed to “an enormous addiction problem in this country.” Though there are correlations between marijuana use and other drugs, there is no conclusive evidence that one actually causes the other.

Speaking at a Republican summit that same month, Christie spun two economic claims. He said it was “outrageous” that there have been “some months” during the Obama administration “where more people have gone on to Social Security Disability than have gotten a job.” But that’s true of every administration since 1986, which is as far back as disability data are available online. He also said New Jersey went “an entire decade without job growth,” from 2000 to 2009, before he became governor. But New Jersey gained 130,700 jobs from January 2000 to January 2008 before the Great Recession wiped out those gains. The U.S. overall also had a net loss of 1.3 million jobs during that 10-year span.

We also spotted several exaggerations in Christie’s State of the State address in January. Among them:

  • Christie boasted that New Jersey’s unemployment rate dropped from 9.7 percent when he took office to 6.4 percent (as of November). But New Jersey was doing slightly better than the national average when he took office, and it was doing slightly worse when he made the speech.
  • The governor touted the creation of 150,000 private sector jobs. But New Jersey’s rate of private sector job growth was less than half the national average; in fact New Jersey ranked 49th out of 50 states in private sector job growth.
  • Christie crowed about New Jersey being “No. 4 in per capita income.” The state is actually third in per capita personal income, exactly where it was the year before Christie took office. It ranked second for more than two decades before that.
  • Christie said that state property taxes “increased more than 70 percent” in the 10 years prior to him becoming governor, and that they’ve increased by “less than 2 percent” in each of the last four years. That ignores the impact state rebates have played in lowering the property tax burden before he was governor, and the impact of the rebate cuts he implemented as governor.
  • Christie made the misleading claim that “taxes were raised 115 times in the eight years before 2010,” the year he took office. But that list includes fees, not just taxes, and the governor himself proposed 23 fee hikes in the 2015 budget.

There’s more in our full file on Christie. We’ll continue to follow Christie and all of the other presidential candidates.

— Robert Farley

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/the-christie-file/feed/ 0
June 26: Natural Gas, ACA, Deficits http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/june-26-natural-gas-aca-deficits/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/june-26-natural-gas-aca-deficits/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 16:22:43 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=97037
http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/june-26-natural-gas-aca-deficits/feed/ 0
Carson Overlooks Russia’s Reserves http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/carson-overlooks-russias-reserves/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/carson-overlooks-russias-reserves/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:32:09 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96765 Ben Carson said the United States has more oil and natural gas than Russia. Not so.

The U.S. recently passed Russia in production of petroleum and natural gas, but estimates put Russia’s proved reserves of crude oil and natural gas way ahead of the U.S.

Carson, a Republican presidential contender, made the claim while talking about his foreign relations goals during a June 23 interview with WGCL-TV in Atlanta (at 8:15 in the video):

Carson, June 23: I think we need to be looking at people like Vladimir Putin and saying “How do we keep him contained?” Obviously, economically. And what’s his big economic thrust? Oil. Who’s got more oil than he does? We do. Who’s got more natural gas than he does? We do. And if we learn how to use that in a geopolitical sense, we can put him in this little box and make Europe dependent on us.

But Carson answered his own questions incorrectly.

Proved Reserves

In 2014, the U.S. had 37 billion barrels of proved crude oil reserves and 338 trillion cubic feet of proved natural gas reserves, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Proved energy reserves, as defined by the EIA, are “estimated quantities of energy sources that analysis of geologic and engineering data demonstrates with reasonable certainty are recoverable under existing economic and operating conditions.”

In that sense, the U.S. is far behind Russia, which, in 2014, had proved reserves totaling 80 billion barrels of crude oil and 1,688 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

In fact, no country has more proved natural gas reserves than Russia, according to EIA figures. And just seven countries have more proved crude oil reserves than Russia. They are: Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

No. 1 in Production

The U.S. is currently the largest producer of petroleum and natural gas. But that’s different from having more oil and gas than Russia, which is what Carson said.

The U.S. produced 24,334 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2013, according to EIA‘s most recent data. That was more than second place Russia’s 22,139 billion cubic feet.

And the U.S. produced 13.97 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2014, according to EIA figures. Saudi Arabia, with 11.62 million barrels per day, and Russia, with 10.85 million barrels per day, were second and third, respectively.

Figures for petroleum production include crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, condensates and other refined liquids. So it’s worth mentioning that based on just production of crude oil including lease condensate, the U.S. (8.65 million barrels per day) still trailed Russia (10.1 million barrels per day) and Saudi Arabia (9.7 million barrels per day) last year.

– D’Angelo Gore, with Eugene Kiely

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/carson-overlooks-russias-reserves/feed/ 0
SCOTUS Ruling Fallout http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/scotus-ruling-fallout/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/scotus-ruling-fallout/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:48:44 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96807 Summary

Reaction to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act was swift — and included comments that strayed from the facts. President Barack Obama’s praise of the law and Republicans’ criticism of it went too far in several instances:

  • Obama said that the ACA made health care “a right for all,” but as Sen. Bernie Sanders pointed out, the law doesn’t achieve universal coverage.
  • Several Republican presidential candidates claimed the ACA was driving up health care costs, when those costs have been rising at low rates in recent years.
  • The president said families with insurance through work are paying an average of $1,800 less than they would have been “if we hadn’t done anything.” But his own economic advisers say the difference in premium growth is only partly attributable to the ACA.
  • A day before the ruling, Sen. Ted Cruz said that premiums have gone “through the roof,” citing a $3,000 increase in family employer plans since the health care law was enacted. The figure is correct, but premium growth has been slower since the ACA was enacted
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry claimed that “nearly 5 million people los[t] their health plans.” That’s based on a high-end estimate by the Associated Press of those whose specific individual market plans were cancelled. But we found the analysis appeared to be inflated, and another analysis put the total at roughly 2.6 million.
  • Former Govs. Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee criticized the cost of the law, but failed to mention that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says it will actually reduce the deficits on net over the next 10 years.
  • Obama said the tax credits in the ACA “have given about 8 in 10 people who buy insurance on the new marketplaces the choice of a health care plan that costs less than $100 a month.” They have “the choice” of such a plan, but we don’t know how many are actually paying that amount.


The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on June 25 in favor of the administration in the King v. Burwell case, which challenged whether federal subsidies could be given to those in states using the federal insurance marketplaces. Language in the Affordable Care Act said that subsidies would be available for those enrolled in an exchange “established by the State,” but 34 states chose to use federally run marketplaces, rather than set up their own. The court ruled that Congress had intended that subsidies would be available nationwide.

Universal Coverage?

Obama began his remarks on the ruling in the White House Rose Garden by saying that when the ACA was enacted five years ago, “we finally declared that in America, health care is not a privilege for a few, but a right for all.” Not exactly. The law was never expected to achieve universal coverage for all Americans.

Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, a presidential candidate, basically got it right when he said in his post-ruling remarks that the United States, unlike the other major countries in the world, “doesn’t guarantee health care to all.” (It depends on what one considers “major” countries. But of the 11 countries examined by the Commonwealth Fund in 2014, the U.S. was the only one without a universal system, and the U.S. lagged behind all of the 30-some countries listed in a 2013 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of insurance coverage for a “core set of services.”)

While the Affordable Care Act has lowered the number of the uninsured in the United States, it hasn’t covered everyone. Nor was it ever expected to.

The White House estimates that 16 million uninsured have gained coverage under the law. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected there would be 17 million fewer uninsured this year than there would have been without the law. But that would still leave an estimated 35 million uninsured this year. CBO estimates that in 2025, there will be 27 million uninsured.

CBO expects the percentage of insured non-elderly Americans, excluding those in the country illegally, to be 93 percent as early as 2018. But that’s not making health care “a right for all,” as the president said.

Health Care Costs

Several Republican presidential candidates claimed the Affordable Care Act is driving up health care costs.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the law “drives up health care costs.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said “American families are getting railroaded by … out-of-control health care costs.” And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the law “has failed to accomplish its prime objective: Containing health care costs.”

That fact is that health care costs have increased “at historically low rates,” although not entirely or even mostly because of the law, according to the journal Health Affairs.

As we have written before, total health care expenditures for the U.S. have been rising at rates around 4 percent per year (see Table 1 of National Health Expenditures Data) from 2009, when Obama took office, to 2013, which is the most recent year for which data are available. Health care spending grew 3.8 percent in 2009, 3.9 percent in 2010 and 2011, 4.1 percent in 2012, and dropped to 3.6 percent in 2013.

Writing for the journal Health Affairs, economists and statisticians for the Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said for those five years, health care spending has grown “at historically low rates.” But that’s largely due to the economy, not the Affordable Care Act.

Health Affairs, December 2014: During the past five years, health care spending grew at historically low rates, between 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent each year. During 2010–13, this slow growth mirrored that of the overall economy, which increased 3.7–4.2 percent per year. … The key question is whether health spending growth will accelerate once economic conditions improve significantly; historical evidence suggests that it will.

$1,800 Less, or $3,000 More?

Many of the comments from both sides have centered on whether Americans were paying more or less under the ACA. The president and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, offered these competing versions of what has happened to employer-sponsored premiums:

Obama: If your family gets insurance through your job — so you’re not using the Affordable Care Act — you’re still paying about $1,800 less per year on average than you would be if we hadn’t done anything.

Cruz, June 24 on Fox News: Obamacare has driven health insurance premiums through the roof. Remember President Obama promised the average family’s health insurance premiums would drop $2,500 under Obamacare. In actuality, the average family’s premiums have risen $3,000. (At the 4:11 mark.)

The average premium for employer-sponsored family plans has gone up by $3,064 from 2010, when Obama signed the ACA, to 2014, according to the latest data available from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual employer survey conducted with the Health Research & Educational Trust. But such growth isn’t what one would call a “through the roof” increase. In fact, premiums have grown more slowly under Obama than they did under President George W. Bush, as we’ve explained before. They’ve grown more slowly since the ACA was passed than premiums did before the law.

That was Obama’s point, but he was wrong to attribute the slower growth in employer premiums solely to the ACA. In fact, as we said, experts have primarily attributed the slow growth in overall health care costs in recent years to the sluggish economy.

The president claimed that families that get their insurance through work are “paying about $1,800 less” on average than they would have been “if we hadn’t done anything.” That’s simply not the case. He’s giving the ACA credit for the entire difference between the higher rate of premium growth from 2000 to 2010, and the lower rate of premium growth from 2010 to 2014. Even his own Council of Economic Advisers, which calculated this $1,800 figure using the KFF employer surveys, says the ACA is only responsible for some of the slowdown in premium growth.

The CEA’s September 2014 report said that “[a] significant fraction of the recent slowdown in health care price inflation can be linked to Medicare reforms in the Affordable Care Act.” The CEA didn’t say what “fraction” that was.

We wrote about this talking point in March, and again earlier this month, when Obama improved upon his wording. He didn’t credit the ACA for the entire change in premium growth, as he did today. Obama also said families were paying $1,800 less on average, but the difference in premium growth is for the total premium — what employers contribute as well as what employees pay.

As for Cruz’s remarks, the president in the past did say that a health care overhaul would save families an average of $2,500, a claim we’ve been punching holes in since 2008. Obama wasn’t clear that he was talking about a slower growth in health care spending, compared with what families would spend without health care legislation.

But Cruz cites the $3,000 increase since 2010 in family premiums as if it were evidence of “through the roof” hikes. Actually, it’s evidence of relatively low premium growth.

The KFF surveys show that premiums have always gone up year to year, at least since the survey began in 1999. The 2014 KFF report notes that “the average family premium has grown less quickly over the last five years than it did between 2004 and 2009 or between 1999 and 2004.”

More Premium Claims

Other Republicans used the Supreme Court ruling to rehash old and misleading or incomplete claims about the Affordable Care Act’s impact on premiums.

For example, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said, “What you will not hear from Democrats today is any information on how to make healthcare more affordable at a time when premiums are getting more expensive.”

And former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican candidate for president, said, “With individual premiums up more than 50 percent and nearly 5 million people losing their health plans, Americans deserve better than what we’re getting with Obamacare.”

Priebus is correct that premiums have, by and large, gotten more expensive — under Obama generally and since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. But as we just explained, the rate of growth in employer-sponsored insurance premiums has been slower than it was before the ACA. In other words, premiums are going up, just not as quickly as they were before.

As for Perry’s claim that “individual premiums [are] up more than 50 percent,” the important qualifier there that many may miss is that he’s talking only about those 6 percent of Americans who buy insurance on their own, the so-called individual market, as opposed to those who get insurance through an employer.

Perry’s campaign told us the 50 percent figure came from a Forbes story about an analysis from the conservative Manhattan Institute that concluded that individual market premiums rose by an average of 49 percent due to the health care law.

As we have noted previously, aside from the study focusing only on the relatively small percentage of Americans in the individual market, the institute didn’t adjust for the fact that the ACA requires certain minimum benefits, which many pre-ACA individual market plans didn’t have. By and large, the post-ACA plans are more robust (whether purchasers like or want that or not). So the analysis isn’t comparing similar types of plans before and after the ACA. And the institute’s figures don’t account for federal subsidies, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated would be extended to 80 percent of all those buying exchange plans nationwide.

Perry’s claim that “nearly 5 million people los[t] their health plans” is also dubious. As we reported in April 2014, that’s based on a high-end estimate by the Associated Press of those who got cancellation notices due to the requirements the ACA put on individual market plans. We found the AP’s state-by-state analysis appeared to be inflated in several states.

In a March 3, 2014, posting on the website of the journal Health Affairs, two researchers from the Urban Institute analyzed findings from a nationwide poll and concluded that “roughly 2.6 million people would have reported that their plan would no longer be offered due to noncompliance with the ACA.”

Cost of the Law

Bush and Huckabee also criticized the cost of the law without mentioning that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the law will actually reduce the deficits over the next 10 years.

Bush said the law “causes spending in Washington to skyrocket by $1.7 trillion.” Huckabee used an even higher figure, calling the law “a $2.2 trillion Washington disaster.”

In a report issued this month, CBO considered the financial impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act. The CBO said the coverage provisions in the law — mainly the exchange subsidies and Medicaid expansion — will cost $1.7 trillion over 10 years, from 2016 to 2025. So Bush was right about that.

However, tax revenue and cost-saving provisions in the law would more than offset the cost and, as a result, repealing the law would increase deficits by $353 billion over 10 years, from 2016 to 2025. (See table 4.)

‘Less Than $100 a Month’

Obama, in touting the law’s affordability, said the tax credits provided by the law — and upheld by the court — “have given about 8 in 10 people who buy insurance on the new marketplaces the choice of a health care plan that costs less than $100 a month.”

In February, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the same thing: “Eight in 10 of those who signed up had at least one coverage option that cost $100 a month or less after tax credits.”

The key phrase in Obama’s sentence is “the choice.” The key word in Burwell’s statement is “option.” Neither is saying that 80 percent of buyers on the individual market are paying less than $100 a month.

In December 2014, the Department of Health and Human Services put out a statement encouraging people to shop around in 2015. In that statement, HHS said “it pays to shop” — noting that “nearly 8 in 10 (79 percent) current Marketplace enrollees can get coverage for $100 or less in 2015 after any applicable tax credits.”

How many enrollees are paying less than $100 a month? We asked the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services, but we did not get a response. If we do, we will update this item.

However, we do know that 69 percent of those who selected a plan through the federally facilitated marketplace and received tax credits paid less than $100 a month in 2014, according to an analysis by HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The report says that more than 5.4 million people selected a marketplace plan, and about 87 percent of them received tax credits. That means more than 3.2 million of the 4.7 million who received tax credits paid less than $100 a month for health insurance.

— by Lori Robertson, Eugene Kiely and Robert Farley


Denniston, Lyle. “Opinion analysis: Saving the subsidies, saving the health care law.” SCOTUS Blog. 25 Jun 2015.

Office of the White House. “Remarks by the President on the Supreme Court’s Ruling of the Affordable Care Act.” 25 Jun 2015.

Statement on Supreme Court Decision Upholding Health Care Law.” Press release. Sen. Bernie Sanders. 25 Jun 2015.

The Commonwealth Fund. “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, 2014 Update: How the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally.” 16 Jun 2014.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. “Health at a Glance 2013: Coverage for health care.” 21 Nov 2013.

Congressional Budget Office. “Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act — CBO’s March 2015 Baseline.” Mar 2015.

Statement: Jeb Bush on Supreme Court Ruling in King v. Burwell.” Press release. Jeb 2016. 25 Jun 2015.

Gov. Huckabee blasts Supreme Court, calls ObamaCare ruling ‘judicial tyranny.’ ” Press release. Huckabee for President. 25 Jun 2015.

Bobby Jindal on Today’s Supreme Court Ruling.” Press release. Bobby Jindal for President. 25 Jun 2015.

Hartman, Micah et al. “National Health Spending In 2013: Growth Slows, Remains In Step With The Overall Economy.” Health Affairs. 34:1. 2015.

Robertson, Lori. “Slower Premium Growth Under Obama.” FactCheck.org. 6 Feb 2015.

National Health Expenditure Data. Table 1. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Last modified 5 May 2014. Accessed 25 Jun 2015.

Fox News. “Sen. Ted Cruz Takes The Center Seat.” 25 Jun 2015.

Employer Health Benefits 2014 Annual Survey.” Kaiser Family Foundation and Health Research & Educational Trust. Undated. Accessed 25 Jun 2015.

Recent Trends in Health Care Costs.” White House Council of Economic Advisers. 24 Sep 2014.

Kiely, Eugene. “Obama’s Exaggerated Health Care Claims.” 20 Mar 2015.

Robertson, Lori. “Obama’s Health Care Boasts.” FactCheck.org. 11 Jun 2015.

Robertson, Lori. “Health Savings Still Optimistic.” FactCheck.org. 15 May 2009.

Robertson, Lori. “Misleading on Premiums.” FactCheck.org. 26 Mar 2012.

Henig, Jess and Lori Robertson. “Obama’s Inflated Health ‘Savings.’ ” FactCheck.org. 16 Jun 2008.

RNC Statement on King v. Burwell Ruling.” Press release. Republican National Committee. 25 Jun 2015.

Statement by Gov. Perry on SCOTUS Obamacare Decision.” Press release. Perry for President. 25 Jun 2015.

Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population.” Kaiser Family Foundation. Undated. Accessed 25 Jun 2015.

Roy, Avik. “3,137-County Analysis: Obamacare Increased 2014 Individual-Market Premiums By Average Of 49%.” Forbes. 18 Jun 2014.

Everwine, Eden and Robert Farley. “Stretching the Truth in Arkansas.” FactCheck.org. 21 Jul 2014.

Robertson, Lori. “‘Millions’ Lost Insurance.” FactCheck.org. 11 Apr 2014.

Policy notifications and current status, by state.” Associated Press. 26 Dec 2013.

Clemans-Cope, Lisa and Nathaniel Anderson. “How Many Nongroup Policies Were Canceled? Estimates From December 2013.” Health Affairs Blog. 3 Mar 2014.

Congressional Budget Office. “Budgetary and Economic Effects of Repealing the Affordable Care Act.” Jun 2015.

Mathews Burwell, Sylvia. Legislative Conference Address. “18th Annual LULAC Legislative Conference and Awards Gala.” Washington, D.C. 11 Feb 2015.

Report shows more options and savings for consumers who shop in the Health Insurance Marketplace in 2015.” Press release. Department of Health and Human Services. 4 Dec 2014.

Burke, Amy et al. “Premium Affordability, Competition, and Choice in the Health Insurance Marketplace, 2014.” ASPE Research Brief. 18 Jun 2014.

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/scotus-ruling-fallout/feed/ 0
Sanders’ ‘Shocking’ Senior Statistic http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/sanders-shocking-senior-statistic/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/sanders-shocking-senior-statistic/#comments Wed, 24 Jun 2015 17:15:16 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96688 Sen. Bernie Sanders has repeatedly claimed that 1 in 5 seniors “live on an average income of $7,600 a year.” The reality is not quite so shocking.

  • After we inquired, the expert who generated that income estimate revised it upward to $8,263, using more up-to-date figures and adjusting for a minor mistake.
  • Furthermore, that income figure does not count such non-cash government benefits as food stamps, housing assistance, Medicare or Medicaid, or proceeds from reverse mortgages. Nor does it include personal funds such as savings or insurance proceeds.

Sanders has made his remarks on senior income more than once, most recently in a Senate floor speech on senior hunger. The Vermont senator, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, is seeking more funding for senior programs through the Older Americans Act.

Sanders, June 16: The truth is — and this is really a shocking truth — that 20 percent of seniors in America live on an average income of $7,600 a year. Between us, I don’t know how anybody can live on $7,600 a year,  let alone older people who need more medicine and more health care.

He used the same figure on Jan. 16 and April 10.

However, that figure is too low. And it’s not correct to say that these low-income seniors “live on” that cash income alone.

 $7,600, Updated and Corrected

When we asked where Sanders got his $7,600 figure, his campaign referred us to Eric Kingson, a professor of social work at Syracuse University and an outspoken advocate of raising Social Security benefits. Kingson, in a telephone interview and an exchange of emails, told us he had calculated the figure using statistics published by the Social Security Administration for the year 2008. Since then, the SSA has issued updated figures covering 2012, which are now the most recent available.

Using the more recent figures, and also correcting for what he termed a “minor” mistake (he says he failed to include a slice of households with income between $13,000 and $13,999 who are just at the top of the lowest 20 percent), Kingson said the correct income figure should be “about $8,263.”

Strictly speaking, this is not a perfectly accurate average. To calculate that, we would need access to the SSA’s survey data on each household, allowing us to add up all the incomes of all households and then dividing by the number of households. But we’ve looked over Kingson’s calculations and agree that given what’s available, his assumptions are reasonable and the $8,263 figure is a close approximation.

But — it’s not all that the bottom 20 percent is “living on.” That cash income figure – which includes things such as interest and dividends, as well as withdrawals from tax-deferred plans such as an IRA or 401(k) — covers total cash income for households made up of a single person age 65 or older, or a married couple where at least one spouse is age 65 or older, but it does not include many resources commonly available to seniors, especially low-income seniors.

What’s Not Included

For example, food stamps and housing aid are not counted, according to the Social Security Administration. Especially for the lowest-income seniors, those can be significant sources of support. In fiscal year 2014, for example, the average monthly food-stamp benefit per person was more than $125, for a total of more than $1,500 for a full year. And in 2011, the Obama administration announced $749 million in so-called Section 202 grants to help nonprofit groups provide housing aid for very low-income elderly people. Those and other federal assistance programs result in lowered rents for many years to come.

Also not counted in the “cash income” figure is financial assistance from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which laid out nearly $3 billion in block grants to states last fiscal year.

And since Sanders made a point of mentioning medicine and health care, it should be noted that Medicare reimbursements also are not counted as cash income. Also absent from the official definition of income is the value of Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides additional benefits, including long-term care in nursing homes, for low-income elderly people.

Loans — including proceeds from so-called “reverse mortgages” — are also not counted as income. A total of more than 900,000 reverse mortgages have been issued since 1990. Nearly all go to those over age 65, as a borrower must be at least 62 to qualify and the average age of those taking out such a loan for the first time was nearly 72 as of 2012, the last year for which the government produced such information.

Other receipts not counted as “income” are withdrawals from savings, insurance proceeds, gifts from relatives or friends, capital gains (such as profit from sale of a personal residence), and any lump-sum insurance payments or inheritances, such as those from a deceased spouse.

We have no way of calculating how much all these kinds of receipts would add to the average if they were counted as “income” — but there’s no question that many seniors rely on them to “live on.”

Average Versus ‘Less Than’

Sanders arrives at a low figure by focusing on the average cash income of all those in the bottom 20 percent — many of whom by definition bring in more than the average. The Social Security Administration says those in the bottom 20 percent earn up to $13,292, which is the upper limit of the bottom “quintile,” or bottom fifth. (See the footnote on Table 10.5)

We don’t mean to dismiss the hardships faced by the least affluent seniors among us, which can be substantial. Sanders would have been correct to say that 20 percent of seniors in America lived on cash income of less than $13,292 in 2012 — not counting non-cash government assistance. That’s a meager figure, to be sure. It’s just not quite the “shocking truth” that Sanders would have voters believe.

— Brooks Jackson

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/sanders-shocking-senior-statistic/feed/ 0
Muddying the Clean Water Act http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/muddying-the-clean-water-act/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/muddying-the-clean-water-act/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 20:42:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96681 Kentucky Sens. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell misrepresented cases involving the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act.

  • Paul said a Mississippi man served “10 years” for “conspiracy to put dirt on his own land.” Robert Lucas was in fact convicted of numerous counts related to filling in protected wetlands on a 2,620-acre lot and selling housing units with deficient septic systems. He served about seven years.
  • In an op-ed, Paul and McConnell highlighted the case of Andy Johnson, “a farmer who built a stock pond on his eight-acre Wyoming farm” and is now threatened with fines by the EPA. Johnson actually dammed a creek considered a tributary to larger, “navigable” rivers, which requires a permit.

Paul and McConnell, along with many other lawmakers, have expressed concern that the new Clean Water Rule finalized by the EPA on May 27 extends regulation of waters to even puddles and backyard ditches. There is disagreement on what the new rule actually accomplishes; EPA has said that it clarifies existing rules on which waterways are included under the Clean Water Act, and does not drastically expand jurisdiction.

Paul, a 2016 presidential candidate, says otherwise. To illustrate what he calls “government overreach,” Paul has cited examples of prosecution related to violations of the Clean Water Act. He spoke about one such example recently at the Baltimore County Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in Maryland:

Paul, June 9: Over 40 years, we now define pollutants as dirt and your backyard as a navigable stream. It would be funny if we weren’t putting people in jail for it. Guy named Robert Lucas, down at the southern part of Mississippi, 10 years ago was 70 years old. He was put in prison for 10 years. He just got out. Ten years without parole. Ten years without early release. He was convicted of a RICO conspiracy [under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act]. RICO’s supposed to be something you go after gangsters for. You know what his conspiracy was? Conspiracy to put dirt on his own land. We’ve gone crazy.

Actually, Lucas went to prison for far more than simply putting “dirt on his own land.” In fact, the EPA has called this case — which spanned three administrations — “the most significant criminal wetlands case in the history of the Clean Water Act.”

SciCHECKinsertIn 1994, Lucas began buying up land in Vancleave, Mississippi, and developing a 2,620-acre plot with low-cost housing. This included filling in wetlands. According to a 2004 Justice Department press release when Lucas and two others were indicted, the Army Corps of Engineers warned Lucas in 1996 and in subsequent years that the property contained protected “wetlands and could not be developed as home sites.” Lucas received a “long record of warnings” of the public health threat he and his partners were creating by installing septic systems in saturated soil, the Justice Department said. In spite of the warnings, he, along with his daughter Robbie Lucas Wrigley and an engineer, M. E. Thompson, Jr., continued to build on the wetlands and sold homes on this property to hundreds of families.

The area is subject to seasonal flooding, and predictably, residents thus suffered from “discharge of sewage from failing septic systems onto the ground around their homes,” the Justice Department said.

As a result, in 2004 Lucas and his associates were charged with 41 counts of violating the Clean Water Act, conspiracy, and fraud; there were no RICO charges. They were convicted on 40 counts after a trial in February 2005, according to a February 2008 Justice Department monthly bulletin on environmental crimes. Lucas remained free while he appealed the verdict — but continued to sell and lease homes at the development in question, and even continued filling in wetlands there and at one other site, according to the Justice Department. Further appeals were dismissed, and Lucas went to prison.

After mangling the facts that led Lucas to jail, Paul misstated the details of that incarceration. Lucas is currently 75 years old, meaning 10 years ago he was not 70, as Paul said. He began serving his 87-month sentence in 2008, and he was released after about seven years to “residential reentry management” — a halfway house. He is scheduled to remain there until November.

Dams and Tributaries

Though it is a less obvious twisting of the facts, McConnell and Paul’s June 16 op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader also mischaracterized an EPA enforcement case.

McConnell and Paul, June 16: A cautionary tale can be found in the story of Andy Johnson, a farmer who built a stock pond on his eight-acre Wyoming farm. He spent hours building it and filling it with fish, ducks and geese. Now the EPA is claiming that he violated the Clean Water Act by building the pond without a permit and is threatening to fine him $75,000 — a day.

This description sounds as though Johnson simply dug a hole and added water. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA found that in order to create the pond, he constructed a dam on Six Mile Creek, a waterway deemed by the EPA to be a tributary of the Blacks Fork River, which in turn is a tributary of the Green River, which is a “navigable, interstate water of the United States.”

Building the dam constituted a “discharge of pollutants” into “waters of the United States,” according to the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, and thus required a permit that Johnson did not have, or seek. As with the Lucas case, EPA officials say that Johnson received multiple warnings before any enforcement actions were taken.

The EPA rules regarding discharging pollutants into waterways are based on a substantial body of evidence showing that water quality and flow in tributaries and wetlands can affect the water found downstream. In an extensive review of that evidence regarding connectivity of waterways, the EPA notes:

EPA, January 2015: The scientific literature unequivocally demonstrates that streams, individually or cumulatively, exert a strong influence on the integrity of downstream waters. All tributary streams, including perennial, intermittent, and ephemeral streams, are physically, chemically, and biologically connected to downstream rivers via channels and associated alluvial deposits where water and other materials are concentrated, mixed, transformed, and transported.

Editor’s Note: SciCheck is made possible by a grant from the Stanton Foundation.

– Dave Levitan

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/muddying-the-clean-water-act/feed/ 0
FlackCheck Video: FactChecking Jeb Bush http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/flackcheck-video-factchecking-jeb-bush/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/flackcheck-video-factchecking-jeb-bush/#comments Tue, 23 Jun 2015 20:27:40 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96679 Jeb Bush officially entered the presidential race on June 15. This “Campaign Watch” video reviews some of the claims we have fact-checked from the former Florida governor.

Read more about the claims reviewed in the video in our “FactChecking Jeb Bush” article.

http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/flackcheck-video-factchecking-jeb-bush/feed/ 0
June 19: Endangered Species, GDP, Clinton http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/june-19-endangered-species-gdp-clinton/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/june-19-endangered-species-gdp-clinton/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 15:17:45 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=96924
http://www.factcheck.org/2015/06/june-19-endangered-species-gdp-clinton/feed/ 0