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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

New Ad, Old Claims

Conservatives for Patients’ Rights is out with a new ad, airing on CNN and Fox News, that repeats a few of the group’s claims about a federal health insurance plan: that it could prevent people from keeping their doctor or their health insurance.

The narrator of the ad says that 14 senators’ votes "on the government-run public option plan could decide" whether you keep your doctor or your insurance plan. The "could" makes the claim squishy, but the implication is that the inclusion of a so-called public option in the health care bill will put the public’s ability to keep their current doctors in jeopardy. In a press release about the ad CPR Chairman Rick Scott claims that "[t]he public option plan is a step toward the British government-run health care system." The ad leaves Britain out of it, but still says this would affect everyone. "The future of every American’s medical care rests with these 14 senators," the narrator says, while images of the 14, including Sens. Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, Olympia Snowe, Max Baucus, Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln, appear on screen.

But the federal health plan in the Senate legislation — and the House bill — would affect relatively few Americans. The plan in the bills would pay health care providers negotiated rates, putting premiums in line with private insurance. In fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that premiums would be "somewhat higher" than private insurance premiums on the insurance exchange, because it would attract less healthy persons (under both the Senate and House bills). And CBO found that 3 million to 4 million, under the Senate bill, and 6 million people, under the House version, would join the federal health plan by 2019.

Instead of referring to these recent analyses of the legislation in Congress, the CPR ad cites a July 16 ABC News report, written when the nature of the "public option" was very much in flux and several different health care bills were being debated. The story stated, as we did, too, that President Obama can’t promise that everyone can keep their doctor or their insurance plan, because a cheaper federal plan might be a draw for employers. "[A] public health care option that is less expensive since profit is not a concern and overhead is lower," ABC News said, might attract businesses, putting employees into the "public plan." But now CBO has said the public plan that has emerged in the legislation would actually be a bit more expensive, not less, than other options for businesses and employees.

That said, it’s true that some employees could wind up with new insurance because their employer switches plans. Small businesses that are eligible to buy coverage through the exchange may well do so. And the existence of the public plan in the exchange would "tend to reduce slightly the premiums of the private plans," the CBO has said, making the exchange plans attractive. But employers are certainly free to switch insurance plans now, or drop plans altogether. The legislation doesn’t guarantee that employees can keep their doctor, but including the federal insurance plan doesn’t put everyone’s health plan at risk, as the ad implies.