A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Misleading GOP Health Care Claims

Republicans in Washington seem to be shifting into overdrive to keep a health system overhaul from passing Congress before the August recess. Yesterday, July 22, brought two more deceptive assaults (that we know of) on the pending bills, one from Minority Whip Eric Cantor and the other from the top GOP member of the House Immigration Subcommittee, Steve King of Iowa.

Cantor’s is in the form of a video that accuses Obama and the Democrats of being in a “reckless rush” to finalize a reset of the system. “How much will it cost?” the narrator asks, as photos of House Democrats flash onscreen. “$1.6 trillion?” Actually, in a preliminary analysis released July 14 (and updated July 17), the Congressional Budget Office scored the House tri-committee group bill as costing a net $1.042 trillion. Cantor’s video inflates that number by more than 50 percent. (We’ll note that an early reported estimate for the yet-to-be-finalized Senate Finance Committee bill put the cost of that legislation at $1.6 trillion.) 

In the sunny wrap-up to the ad, the narrator describes “the Republican plan”: “If you like what you have, you can keep it,” he says. “Access to an affordable basic coverage.” But there is no plan around which Republicans have coalesced. Back in May, some GOP lawmakers offered a bill that would have cut the tax deduction that employers get for offering their employees health insurance plans, and given workers tax credits instead. But there’s been little talk of the bill since then. And Missouri Republican Rep. Roy Blunt was tapped to head a GOP health care task force in February, which was charged “with crafting Republican solutions to increase Americans’ access to quality, affordable health care,” but which so far has produced no plan and seems unlikely to do so. This week, Blunt said:

Blunt: Our bill is never going to get to the floor, so why confuse the focus? We clearly have principles; we could have language, but why start diverting attention from this really bad piece of work [the Democrats have] got to whatever we’re offering right now?

Meanwhile, Rep. King of Iowa issued an eye-catching press release, headlined: “CBO: 5,600,000 Illegal Aliens May Be Covered Under Obamacare.” King claimed that this is what the Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of House health care legislation said. But it didn’t. His press release also said that the 5.6 million would be covered “in large part because the liberal proposal does not include any requirements to verify the citizenship or immigration status of those receiving taxpayer-funded health benefits.” That’s not true, either.

H.R. 3200 includes a provision that specifically says that there will be no federal funds spent to cover illegal immigrants:


Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

The preceding section reiterates this, stating that “the term ‘affordable credit eligible individual’ means … an individual who is lawfully present in a State in the United States.” In other words, no federal subsidies for you if you’re in the country illegally. Besides, illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for federal health programs under current law. (Tax dollars do, however, cover emergency care.)

So, where does King get his 5.6 million figure? His press release says that the CBO projected that the uninsured would include 14.1 million illegal immigrants in 2019. The CBO’s analysis of the House health care bill estimates that in 2019, 17 million would remain uninsured “nearly half of whom would be unauthorized immigrants.” This is where math comes in: Taking the 14.1 million illegal immigrants in 2019 and subtracting half of 17 million (8.5 million) gets you … 5.6 million illegal immigrants that have suddenly gained coverage, right? Actually, no. About half of illegal immigrants in the U.S. have health care coverage now.

As the CBO itself said in a December 2008 report: “studies indicate that of the roughly 12 million unauthorized immigrants in this country [now], about half have health insurance and half are uninsured.” Those studies were done by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center. Its oft-cited work on the numbers of unauthorized immigrants said that illegal immigrants were more likely to be uninsured principally because “the occupations and industries in which the unauthorized work tend to be those where employers do not provide insurance.” The center’s report said 59 percent of adults and 53 percent of children with illegal status are uninsured.