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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Voting for a Health Care Takeover?

A relatively unknown conservative group called the League of American Voters has launched an ad attacking Democratic members of Congress for, in the words of the TV spot, voting in favor of “Obama and Pelosi’s health care takeover." But the ad is filled with misleading claims.



The group’s Web site says it is running similar ads "across the nation." We contacted the group to ask where exactly the ad is airing, but we have yet to receive an answer. The version above targets Rep. Mark Schauer of Michigan, and an article in West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette says ads criticizing Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan are running in that state.

The ad claims that Obama’s and Pelosi’s health care bill includes "billions in Medicare cuts" and "health care rationing" that’s "financed by an income tax surcharge."

The House bill does call for $500 billion over 10 years in cuts, or savings, depending on your viewpoint, from Medicare. As we’ve said before, this is actually a reduction in the future growth of spending, not a cut to the current financing or, most important to seniors, to benefits. And squeezing money out of Medicare does not necessarily mean that seniors will suffer a loss of benefits or services in the future, either, as some viewers may infer.

As for the buzz word "rationing," the ad points to an editorial in the Wall Street Journal as support for that claim. The words "explicitly limiting patient access to treatments" are shown on screen in the ad, but that phrase was part of the editorial page’s speculation as to what could happen if cost-saving measures in the bills don’t work as planned. The Journal‘s editorial said: "If or when the Administration’s speculative cost-cutting measures under universal health care fail to produce savings, government will start explicitly limiting patient access to treatments and services regarded as too expensive."

We’ve debunked similar claims before, ones that stemmed from assertions made about what a council or center on comparative effectiveness research would do. That’s research into which treatments work best and, in some cases, are most cost-effective. But both the stimulus bill and the House health care bill — which both address comparative effectiveness research — say that such a unit won’t be allowed to mandate coverage or reimbursement policies for any insurer, whether it’s a government program or private insurance company.

The ad is correct in saying that the House bill is "financed by an income tax surcharge" — the spot just neglects to mention that the vast majority of viewers don’t make anywhere near enough money to be hit with the tax. As one source of revenue, the bill proposes a 5.4 percent tax on modified adjusted gross income above $500,000 for individuals and $1 million for couples. (An earlier version of the ad claimed that the House bill put a tax on insurance plans, a mistaken reference to the Senate bill’s excise tax on so-called Cadillac plans.)

The ad correctly cites a Rasmussen poll from January that found 58 percent oppose the Democrats’ health care plan. We’d note that the most recent poll shows a touch more support, with 44 percent in favor of Obama’s and the Democrats’ plan and 52 percent in opposition.

We’re not sure what exactly the League of American Voters would point to as evidence that the Democratic bills amount to a "takeover of your health care," but, as we’ve said before, these bills do not propose a government-run or single-payer health care system, like those of many other countries. The House bill does contain a federal health plan (a.k.a. the "public option"), but the Congressional Budget Office estimated that only 6 million would join this insurance plan and that their premiums would be "somewhat higher" than private premiums sold through the insurance exchanges.

Finally, we don’t know if the League of American Voters is “using a name clearly designed to be confused with” the League of Women Voters, as the LWV alleged in a letter to the group. But we’d agree with LWV’s assessment that LAV is tough to track down. The Web site includes no phone number, only an e-mail address. The group’s address is the same as that of Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative organization run by Grover Norquist. LAV’s executive director, Bob Adams, has worked for Republicans in the past and campaigned for the West Virginia Senate on the Republican ticket in 2008. 

Adams told the Charleston paper that his group, a 501(c)(4) organization established in July, was not yet required to file statements to the IRS. Adams also took a few swipes at us, claiming that "the NRA [National Rifle Association] criticized [factcheck.org] for being too cozy with the Obama administration. They also have an anti-coal bias."

We’re not sure why Adams believes we have an "anti-coal bias," but the remark obviously is aimed at a readership in a coal-producing state. As for the NRA, the group certainly hasn’t been pleased with our articles debunking some of its advertising. As we pointed out in a sidebar to a piece on the NRA’s attacks on Obama in the presidential campaign, the gun rights group’s accusation of bias ignores the fact that we’ve been critical of gun-control advocates, too, when they’ve made false claims.