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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Aug. 25-Aug. 31

This week, readers sent us comments on tort reform, sharks, fonts and health insurance (surprise!).

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.

Tort Reform

First, let me just say that Factcheck.org is my first and foremost, non-biased resource for finding out the true & factual information and answers to all the chain emails and abundant amount of misinformation being circulated by innumerable sources. Thanks for your efforts to set us all straight and provide some restoration & sense to the political scene.

Now, something that is not clear to me, but I hear commented on frequently is tort reform. I am wondering if tort reform change regarding health care lawsuits is being considered as a factor in the new proposed health care plan?

Thank you for any enlightenment on this issue.

Nancy Etter
Las Vegas, Nev.

FactCheck.org responds: There are no provisions for tort reform, or the limiting of malpractice litigation and damages, in H.R. 3200. This may be in part because the Congressional Budget Office, which advises Congress on economic issues, has found that while limiting malpractice liability reduces malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, it has a negligible effect on overall personal or federal health care spending. We wrote about this in 2004. In 2006, CBO reported that the relationship between tort reform and health care spending is complex, and that in some cases tort reform actually increases spending.


We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

I’d like to begin by thanking you for deciphering all the information that is thrown at us daily, nay, hourly, and clarifying it for us.

Now then, I read the article about MoveOn.org’s humorous ad comparing sharks to insurance companies ["Health Care Meets Shark Week!," Aug. 11]. I noticed a glaring omission from MoveOn and FactCheck’s discussion: rescission. An article in the L.A. Times shows one example of how rescission policies/practices by big insurance is encouraged so they can save money by dumping clients with costly claims. It isn’t much of a stretch to consider that such practices compromise the health of their (former) policyholders and could lead to the premature deaths of those unable to get treatment(s).

Thus far I haven’t been able to locate empirical evidence directly attributing deaths to rescinded policies; however, I have heard one horrifying story of a woman with cancer that was dropped because of a small omission(?) on a claim concerning acne treatment. (This American Life: "Fine Print" episode, Act 3 "Restrictions May Apply.")

At the very least I think that the practice of rescission by some insurance companies is certainly comparable to that of a shark ruthlessly tracking wounded prey. No, actually, I think those companies are worse, much worse, since the shark’s intent is to sustain its life through nutrition, not get fat off the misfortune of others.

Laura Stemac
Austin, Tex.


Outside the Lines on H.R. 3200

Thank you for analyzing the e-mail ["Twenty-six Lies About H.R. 3200," Aug. 28]. There certainly is a lot of misleading and faulty information being said, printed and e-mailed.

I observe a consistent trend in your analysis. Government is getting deeply involved in our lives. That is the overriding and overwhelming problem with this health care bill. Government needs to stay out of health care.

Rich Connelly
Fairview, Tex.


I usually appreciate efforts like this, but when the parameters of the review become limited to responding to a single source they lose some of the necessary objectivity.

You are responding only to what is written in the bill.

Your leading line indicates: "A notorious analysis of the House health care bill contains 48 claims. Twenty-six of them are false and the rest mostly misleading. Only four are true." You may want to revise that or qualify your article with a disclaimer that it only applies to the written word of the bill.

Larry Lambert
Bowie, Md.


I am dismayed that you look at each "fact" in isolation and at the immediate moment, with no thought to what will happen over time and in concert with other "facts." For example, regarding private plans that operate outside of the exchange. You write "However, new plans sold directly to individuals will only be sold through the exchange. Individuals who currently buy their own coverage can keep those plans if they wish, and if the insurance company continues to offer them." A moment’s thought raises the question "how small a change in a plan makes it a new plan?" It is very probable that every existing plan will from time to time make some small change in a deductible, or in coverage, or some other small element. At that moment it becomes a "new plan" and either joins the exchange or disappears. In time, there will be no private plans outside the exchange. Oh, and won’t the politicians be surprised at this unexpected development. Sure they will!

You accept at face value our politicians’ statements that they have no desire (contrary to their past assertions) to create a government single-payer system, or to effect a government takeover of health care. Now consider Obama’s plans in total. He would create a large number of committees and commissions regulating a vast array of details of our health care system. Payments to doctors and hospitals, prices of drugs, appropriate treatments, qualifications on insurance plans, and so much more, will all start out being "recommended," but how long will it be before recommendations become regulations? All the authority to do so is being put into place. Regulation of all elements of the health care system constitutes control of it, which is de facto government takeover. You assume it will not happen because the Democrats say today it won’t. Can you be more naive?

You will provide more useful analyses if you lose your childlike faith in the honesty of politicians, and look at the long-term agenda.

Rick Fischer
Loudon, Tenn.


Undocumented Immigrants and Taxes

I read the following on your site ["Seven Falsehoods About Health Care," Aug. 14]:

under current law, those in the country illegally don’t qualify for federal health programs. Of interest: About half of illegal immigrants have health insurance now, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, which says those who lack insurance do so principally because their employers don’t offer it.

If they don’t have Social Security numbers, how is it possible for illegals to have insurance? Also, do they pay taxes? These are problems I’m often required to address when speaking to people who don’t want to provide health care to illegals.

I believe if we’re allowing them to WORK here, we must help them when they need it. The problem isn’t with health care, it’s with employers and with our society in general for its hypocrisy in dealing with this problem of undocumented workers.

Sherry Noland
Henderson, Nev

FactCheck.org responds: Undocumented immigrants can obtain individual taxpayer identification numbers, which are issued without regard to immigration status and can function in lieu of a Social Security number. Many immigrants do pay payroll taxes using ITINs or expired Social Security numbers, and of course they also pay other taxes such as sales and property taxes. According to the nonpartisan Urban Institute: "the U.S. Social Security Administration has estimated that three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, and that they contribute $6-7 billion in Social Security funds that they will be unable to claim."


Health Care Counter-Proposal?

In an effort to find some balance in the ongoing universal health care cacophony, I’ve been looking for any RNC counter-proposals to the Democratic Party proposal. I haven’t had any luck. Please point me in the direction of any such information you have uncovered. Thanks.

Ronald P. Andrews
Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

FactCheck.org responds: There’s been no alternate legislation proposed yet. If there is, and if misinformation is spread about it, you’ll hear about it here. The RNC has, however, outlined a platform on health care. It hinges on driving down costs and improving quality by encouraging competition.


Except This Subhead, Too

Lori Robertson in her 2/18/08 article pointed out good indicators for spotting viral e-mails containing bogus info. Here is another indicator I’ve noticed:
A large, colorful, bold font.
Except in this e-mail, of course.

Don Wallace
Portland, Ore.