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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

A Practically Fact-Free Attack on Reid

Former Nevada state Sen. Sue Lowden, who is running for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in November, goes after Reid in a new ad for trying to force "one-size-fits-all government health care" on all Americans.


Maybe "one-size-fits-all government health care" is a plausible description of the systems in some other countries: Canada or the U.K., for instance. But the Senate-passed health care overhaul, which Reid shepherded through that body on Christmas Eve, builds on our system of private health insurance, provided through employers or purchased individually. And in fact, the Senate bill would likely present individuals with more choices than they have at present, notably through newly created exchanges where any number of private insurance companies would compete for the business of millions of currently uninsured Americans.

Lowden also says that the proposed overhaul will "put a bureaucrat between you and your doctor." That’s flat wrong. It implies that a government official would have to sign off on treatment options. But nobody would be forced to clear their treatment with the government under either the House or Senate bill.

Does the overhaul "weaken Medicare," as Lowden says? It calls for cuts in the growth of Medicare spending totaling about $500 billion over 10 years. The cuts aren’t supposed to affect benefits to seniors, however. "Weaken" is a subjective word, but it’s certainly not the one the head of AARP chose in December, when he said the Senate’s passage of its bill "clears the way for Congress to enact legislation in the coming weeks that will protect and strengthen Medicare.” AARP CEO Barry Rand cited closing the “doughnut hole” prescription drug coverage gap and providing free preventive care as two of the bill’s improvements to Medicare.

Next, Lowden says the bill will “kill jobs.” When we looked at a similar charge last fall, we said that "the nonpartisan experts we talked to don’t believe the employer mandate is going to trigger the evaporation of many jobs as a percentage of total employment." The Lewin Group’s John Sheils estimated that under the original version of the House bill, up to 600,000 workers, or 0.4 percent of the population, could lose their jobs. Fewer jobs would be lost under the Senate Finance Committee’s bill, he said. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which analyzed the issue last July before any bills were passed, even by committee, said that "[r]equiring employers to offer health insurance – or pay a fee if they do not – is likely to reduce employment, although the effect would probably be small." And other experts say that at least some of the jobs lost would be offset by jobs gained in the health care industry.

Finally, Lowden claims the legislation will “push us further into debt.” But that conflicts with the analysis of CBO and Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, which say the Senate bill would reduce the deficit by $132 billion over 10 years.The House bill would yield about the same net reduction in the deficit, $138 billion over the same period, by the calculations of CBO and JCT. A spokesman for Lowden’s campaign told us that support for her statement can be found on the Web site of the conservative Heritage Foundation. That’s true. For example, this post by James Capretta, who used to work in the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush, argues that certain cuts and other steps outlined in health care overhaul legislation are unlikely to happen. 

Lowden has a right to believe any analysis she likes. But we’d note that, as hard as it is to forecast anything 10 years out, a projection like Capretta’s adds still more conjecture to the calculation.

Lowden is running ahead of Reid in a recent poll by the Las Vegas Review Journal but first must win the GOP nod in a June primary.

Correction, March 31: We originally referred to Capretta’s analysis as "a partisan source," but we have deleted that. Capretta worked in a Republican administration, but his analysis was published by the Heritage Foundation, which describes itself as conservative and nonpartisan.