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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

RNC: Health Care “Risky Experiment”

The Republican National Committee announced a new TV ad attacking President Obama’s proposed health care plan as a “risky experiment” that threatens “our health.” It said the ad would run in Arkansas, Nevada and North Dakota.

The ad says “trillions” have been committed to “rushed” bailouts and takeovers of banks and the auto industry. Fair enough, though $68 billion of the bank bailout money already has been repaid, with interest. It may even be so that the Obama administration has embarked on the “biggest spending spree in our nation’s history,” as the ad claims. Even in relation to the size of the economy, Obama’s spending exceeds that of President Ronald Reagan during his massive military buildup. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the spending that Obama has budgeted so far would peak this year at 28.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. (See Tab 1-3 in CBO’s “Estimate of the President’s Budget.”) That’s higher than the 21.6 percent of GDP consumed by federal spending in FY 1986. (See table F-13 in CBO’s Historical Budget Data document.) But what about the ad’s claim that Obama’s “new experiment risks their future” (referring to the infant and children shown in the ad) and “our health.” We have no quarrel with the idea that there’s some financial risk to future generations in adding a trillion dollars of federal spending over the next decade to pay for expanding health coverage. That’s a reasonable argument. But how does it risk “our health”? Here the RNC produces less factual support. In “Ad Facts” released with the TV spot, the RNC states that the plan “Could Drive Doctors Out Of Business” in rural areas, but supports that claim with a news article that quotes a handful of doctors stating their personal opinion. It also cites a July 14 estimate by the Congressional Budget Office (updated July 17) that the House bill would leave 17 million without health insurance. Is that really a risk? About half of those 17 million would be illegal immigrants, according to the CBO, and nobody is proposing that they should be eligible for coverage, least of all the RNC. And anyway, the same estimate projects that 37 million otherwise uninsured persons would gain coverage. Similarly, the “Ad Facts” also claim that the Obama plan “Could Lead To [an] Estimated 113 Million People Losing Private Health Insurance.” But they wouldn’t “lose” coverage altogether. The RNC cites House testimony by John Sheils of the Lewin Group. What Sheils actually said is that if a proposed new federal health insurance program is opened to everybody (which is permitted, but not required in the House legislation) then 122.9 million Americans would sign up for it, including 113.5 million projected to switch over from private coverage. Why? Because it would be substantially cheaper, for one thing. “We estimate that the public plan under the House bill would have premiums that are 20 percent to 25 percent less than for comparable private coverage,” Sheils stated.