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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Future Fund’s Faulty Fusillade

The American Future Fund, a conservative advocacy group, is launching an offensive on multiple fronts against the proposed health care bill. Its television ad mixes bits of recycled images and false claims with new falsehoods, while its print ad sticks closer to the facts but begs some context.

Video Attacks

First off, the ad says that "liberals are crafting a secret health care bill behind closed doors." That’s absurd. The health care overhaul bills were passed months ago (the House version passed in November, and the Senate’s in December) and have been posted, studied, critiqued and used as a prop ever since. It’s true that the revisions the House may vote on this weekend weren’t posted until Thursday, but they are available now.

Next, we’re told that the Democrats are "going to try to pass it without even voting." One can say a lot of things about the process (and we’re about to say a few ourselves) but one cannot claim that there have been no votes (see above). What’s happening now is a bit more complicated than the standard conference procedure, but it still involves voting.

We wish SchoolHouse Rock could update its classic "How a bill becomes a law" video to reflect the current game plan. In lieu of that, a brief rundown: It’s true that the House isn’t expected to vote on the Senate-passed bill, specifically. Instead, a vote is expected to come on a package that would "deem" the Senate bill to be passed while simultaneously approving a series of modifications, which the Senate would then consider separately. But to say that Democrats "may try to pass it without even voting" is simply false. Majority votes in both the House and Senate would be required for passage.

As for the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase," provisions that the ad says "could become law" – yes, they could, but only if the Senate fails to pass the House’s package of fixes. As we explained before, the "kickback" of federal funds to pay for Nebraska’s increased Medicaid costs, which was included in the Senate bill to get Sen. Ben Nelson’s vote, would be changed so that the federal government provides funds to all states. The "purchase" would make up for a Medicaid funding hit that Louisiana took after Katrina, when its state income levels were skewed because of federal disaster aid flowing to the state. That measure has been championed by the state’s Republican leaders.

The ad says that "61 percent of Americans want to start over on health care." But the poll cited dates from early February. According to the newest Kaiser Family Foundation health tracking poll, just 36 percent want Congress to "go back to the drawing board and start over again on a new proposal."

It’s no accident that the ad uses loaded terms like "backroom" (which is the title of this ad), of course. A Republican National Committee poll released this week and posted by the liberal Washington Independent, found that adding the word "backroom" to heath care attacks lowered voters’ support for their representatives.

Print Attack

The group also ran a full-page print ad in USA Today and Politico on March 17, claiming that President Obama, despite his many assurances to the contrary, admitted that health care overhaul efforts would prevent many Americans from keeping their current health insurance.

American Future Fund Print Ad

"The President made a slip…and spoke the truth," the print ad says. "He admitted that his numerous prior assurances were wrong and that ObamaCare would make it impossible for millions of Americans to keep their current health care plans, even if they like them." AFF is refering to a comment the president made during a conference with House Republicans in Baltimore, Md., nearly two months ago:

Obama, Jan. 29, 2010: If you look at the package that we’ve presented — and there’s some stray cats and dogs that got in there that we were eliminating, we were in the process of eliminating. For example, we said from the start that it was going to be important for us to be consistent in saying to people if you can have your — if you want to keep the health insurance you got, you can keep it, that you’re not going to have anybody getting in between you and your doctor in your decision making. And I think that some of the provisions that got snuck in might have violated that pledge.

It isn’t clear from his remarks what "provisions" the president believes "got snuck" into the bill that might undermine his previous guarantees. And we’re not the only ones to ask the White House about the president’s comment and not get a response. But the truth is, as we’ve written several times before, the president can’t simply promise everyone that they’ll be able to keep the insurance they have now. For one thing, the bill sets minimum coverage standards with which insurers will eventually have to comply. This very well could have an impact on the plans that individuals and employers have to choose from.

Furthermore, the bill doesn’t take away employers’ freedom to change what plans they offer to employees (though they’d have to meet those minimum coverage standards), or to drop coverage altogether. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the Senate-passed bill, between 8 million and 9 million people would lose their employer-sponsored health insurance because their employers, mostly small-business owners, would no longer offer it. So would the health care overhaul "make it impossible for millions of Americans to keep their current health care plans"? It’s not written that way in the bill, but the result would be that millions would see a change in their health care coverage. Given that there will be minimum benefit requirements, their coverage could be better, but at any rate, for many it would be different.

What’s missing in ads like these, of course, is any discussion of what would happen under the status quo, as health care costs continue their upward spiral. That, too, would mean changes for many Americans, as more employers would likely stop offering health insurance to their workers. In a survey released last month, 43 percent of employers responding said they’d lost confidence in their ability to provide affordable insurance benefits to their workers 10 years from now, up from 38 percent in 2009 and 27 percent in 2008. The Kaiser Family Foundation, which does an annual survey of employer health benefits, found that 60 percent of employers provided health insurance to their workers in 2009, down from 69 percent in 2000.