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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Aug. 18-Aug. 24

This week, readers sent us comments on abortion funding, "The Daily Show" and keeping your insurance.

In the FactCheck Mailbag we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Abortion Funding Face-Off

I just read your Factcheck.org piece on abortion and health care reform ["Abortion: Which Side is Fabricating?," Aug. 21]. President Obama is correct in stating that health care reform is not going to mean government funding of abortion.

Critics are wrongly claiming that the public plan is like Medicaid, and saying that if the public plan covers abortion, that is the same as taxpayer funded abortions. That is inaccurate, since the public plan operates just like a private plan. It would be funded and paid for by private individual premiums.

Two examples also highlight the distinction between abortion coverage and taxpayer funding of abortion.

One: Currently companies get a tax break on employer based insurance, the majority of which cover abortions, but people don’t think that is taxpayer funding of abortion.

Two: The tax credit for health insurance is analogous to Pell grants that college students receive that they can use at the college of their choice. If a student uses the Pell grant at a Catholic college, people don’t think that is the government subsidizing the Catholic college.

Laurie Rubiner
Vice President for Public Policy
Planned Parenthood


We think that FactCheck.org is in error in the way it uses the term "public funds."

It is true that the Capps Amendment does contain, on page 6, a caption that reads, "(3) PROHIBITION ON USE OF PUBLIC FUNDS FOR ABORTION COVERAGE." But this is another red herring, artfully inserted by Chairman Waxman’s seasoned staff. If you read the OPERATIVE clause that immediately follows that caption, you see that the prohibition applies ONLY to the "affordability credit" – that is, it applies ONLY to one very specific type of "public funds."

There is nothing in the Capps Amendment that prohibits the use of any type of "public funds" (or "federal funds") for abortions by the new public option plan, EXCEPT the prohibition on using the "affordability credit." If the Capps Amendment ACTUALLY contained a clause "that prohibits the use of public funds to pay for abortions" (your phrase), then the public option would NOT be able to pay for abortions at all – because once the federal agency collects the premiums (including the abortion surcharge required on pages 4 and 5 of the Capps Amendment), those premiums ARE public funds. They are in a federal account and will be paid out by a federal agency in accord with federal statutes and regulations.

Many government agencies collect funds from various sources – appropriations from general revenues, certainly, but also specific fees required by statute or regulation, user fees, fines, assets of drug dealers, and many others – and, in this case, premiums. Once the government agency has control of the funds, they are all public funds. The drafters of the Capps Amendment understand this very well, and they carefully crafted language that applies only to a single sub-class of public funds.

Again, the Capps Amendment does NOT contain any general prohibition on the use of "public funds" (or "federal funds") for elective abortions. Rather, the Capps Amendment says that the cost of the elective abortions cannot be counted against the "affordability credits" (premium subsidies), but must be counted against the abortion-specific premium add-on (what we call the abortion surcharge). We assert that both sources are "public funds" and both sources are "federal funds."

Thank you for your consideration of these points.

Douglas Johnson
Legislative Director
National Right to Life Committee


Keep Your Insurance? Not Everyone Thinks It Has Been Promised.

Your analysis regarding what my employer may do or what may happen if I change jobs ["Keep Your Insurance? Not Everyone," Aug. 18] is irrelevant to the current debate. Those are facts that nothing – short of universal single-payer health care – is going to change. So when the president says "You can keep your current plan," I don’t take that to mean that I will always and forever keep the identical coverage that I have now. I take it to mean "No one will force you to drop your current plan and sign on to a new government controlled plan that you don’t know anything about." I’d say that is factual.

Don Albertson
Spring Mills, Pa.


Usually I enjoy and trust Factcheck.org, but this is quite off.

The fact that, under reform, your employer may opt to offer you insurance or not is not a change, and has absolutely nothing to do with anything. The statement President Obama made was in reference to what options you have – MORE options under reform – including the option to stay with a plan you and your employer have and like. It doesn’t mandate, of course, that your employer must give up control of compensation packages. That would just be silly. The promise under reform is that you can’t get booted from your plan for being laid off, and you can’t get booted if you suddenly need to actually use your insurance and cost too much to the insurance company (among other things). Clearly, President Obama is not literally promising every single American that their employers will never change their health care coverage; he is simply trying to explain in simple terms that the public option is a public OPTION, not a nationalized HMO that you will be forced to take by mandate.

Please edit this entry in an impartial way to make that clear.

Shame on you.

Lissa Lucas
Cairo, W.Va.


First, I appreciate your services. We desperately need news outlets that are nonpartisan fact purveyors.

Today’s article that Obama cannot really promise everyone that "if you like it, you can keep it" is obviously true. However, there is currently nothing in the law that would prevent an employer from changing plans at any time, or even to end coverage altogether.

So, it seems to me that what he probably means, and should be saying is that there is no language in any of the proposed plans (assuming that is true) that would require you to give up your current insurance plan. As before, that is up to your employer.

Charlie Touzeau
Columbia, Mo.


Thanks you so much for FactCheck.org – a source that I can always rely on to get the facts straight.

This is a general observation about the level of pedantry in debunking false claims and a small worry about the difference between getting the facts and drawing a true/false conclusion.

Not all claims are dealt with at the same level of detail, so blatant lies and pedantic discrepancies seem to be equally false, even though their impacts are wildly different.

Case in point: I agree completely that Obama cannot give guarantees about the final consequences of anything in health reform. He can only give guarantees about things he has some control over. It never occurred to me that people might think "Keep Your Insurance" also applied to market forces to be unleashed by the act.

So this particular claim is only false in the context of what, to me, is a misunderstanding. In the, to me, obvious context, the claim is true.

Keep up the difficult work!

George Newsome
Tinton Falls, N.J.


Thank you for your continuing work to ensure that we have facts, rather than opinions, to help us come to our own conclusions on this debate.

I would like to point out something that isn’t addressed in this article. Right now, if we like our employer-provided insurance, we still can’t necessarily keep it. Employers review and audit their offerings often, and my family and I are currently on our third different plan (and insurance provider) in as many years. Each change has been increasingly expensive for us, and has provided decreasing levels of coverage for our children. It is, perhaps, important to note that those of us with employer-based coverage do not have the control over it that seems implied.

Tania de Sa Campos
Seattle, Wash.

FactCheck.org responds: We applaud our readers’ interpretive subtlety, but we can only respond to what politicians say, not what we suppose they might mean. Obama has said that everyone can keep their current coverage. That may not be true. As we stated in the article, the House bill requires employers to offer health plans that meet minimum benefit standards. Those that don’t, have five years to change plans. The bill also sets up a federal insurance option that could attract small businesses eligible to join, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 3 million would lose employer-sponsored coverage, likely due to the penalty being lower than the cost of providing insurance. We did address the fact that employers are currently empowered to drop or change coverage.


Daily Show Spot-Check

First, my hearty appreciation for your efforts at debunking the many false claims made by people of all political stripes. Policymakers and pundits seem to be taking advantage of the complexities of health care reform to manipulate public opinion to satisfy ideological ends. What’s new, eh.

I am writing to ask that you once again delve into the rancorous morass that has grown out of the seemingly innocuous section 1233 of the House bill. [Patient advocate and former New York lieutenant governor] Betsy McCaughey appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on 8-20-09 and brought a copy of said bill and thoroughly muddied the waters with her insistence that it was "dangerous" for seniors.

I have watched it twice now and would summarize her complaint down to two specific claims. 1) She asserted that the bill "forces" doctors to include suicidal options of self-denying water and nutrients in the consultation, and 2) that doctors would be penalized by reduced reimbursements effectively incentivizing them to suggest euthanasia.

At the risk of post-mortem equine flagellation, could you please dissect her interpretation and analysis of this bill? While you’re at it you can refute her dismissal of your organization in her suggestion that you change your name to spotcheck.org. I am thinking of a detailed description of your methodology that could be linked to from the about us section on your website.

Thanks again for being a source for unflavored, un-biased information.

Scott Evans
Tulsa, Okla.

FactCheck.org responds: We have written about McCaughey’s "Daily Show" appearance in a FactCheck Wire post.


More On Insurance

Answer to the question about private health insurance being outlawed in the House bill ["Private Insurance Not Outlawed," Aug. 13] is misleading at best. It doesn’t outlaw it specifically, but beginning on day one of Y1 of the new bill’s effective date, any changes in the terms and conditions of any grandfathered policy disqualifies the plan. (Page 16). On page 17, by Y5, those grandfathered plans must meet the same criteria as the new plans or they will be disqualified. In essence, this bill systematically phases out private health insurance over five years, because after the fifth year, the original grandfathered plan would have to, by law, morph into the abhorration the government designed.

Your answer just gives cover to one of the most socialist policies proposed to date. It is clear that you are not completely checking the facts.

Read the bill!

Jeff Martin
Blue Ridge, Va.

FactCheck.org responds: It’s true that if a grandfathered policy changes materially, it will no longer be considered grandfathered coverage and would have to be replaced by acceptable coverage purchased on the Health Insurance Exchange in order to avoid penalties. Our reader, however, ignores the fact that most plans on the HIE — the "new plans" mentioned above — will be private plans.


Since you people seem to know so much about the 1,000 page health care bill, why don’t you go to these town hall meetings and explain to the seniors exactly how this bill works. Obama doesn’t seem to be able to explain how it works if he even knows. Maybe you people could explain it to the seniors much better than anyone else has been able to.

Jermyn E. Dolan
Sawyer, Mich.

FactCheck.org responds: Alas, our travel budget prohibits it.


Source Concerns

Listen, I refer people to your site all the time, but your reliance on the Lewin Group for health care information puts your nonpartisan cred at serious risk.

Please find another source for your health care fact check. You live in fantasyland to believe Lewin disseminates unbiased health care information. Health insurance companies do not want any part of a reform package that would lower their profit margin. And, Lewin is a subsidiary of one of the largest health insurance companies in the country! Just because Lewin is nonpartisan doesn’t mean anything. They are all about protecting the health insurance industry. Period. End of discussion.

Meg Sharp Walton
Bethlehem, Pa.

FactCheck.org responds: The Lewin Group says that it operates with "editorial independence," and its results have been cited by both sides of the debate. We have frequently cited its work in opposition to criticisms of the health care bills in Congress.

FactCheck Outreach

Before I retired in 2006 as a professor of communication at LSUS, I used the Annenberg "materials" from time-to-time in my work and research. I know of you as a reliable source. Your site was recommended to me by [Democratic Louisiana Sen.] Mary Landrieu’s office last week when I called asking for unbiased information concerning the current health care reform. I really did not expect them to give me an unbiased site, but they steered me to FactCheck.org. Out of all of my searching, this is, so far, the best site I have found.

I only wish that this center could or would be more aggressive in regard to making the general public aware of its existence.

Charlene Handford Barlow
Shreveport, La.