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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Bachmann’s Killer Health Care Claims

Rep. Michele Bachmann claims that “vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens” will all “pay more” under the federal health care law and get “less” in return. The law actually provides free preventive services for women, increases prescription drug coverage for seniors and extends funding for the children’s health program for two more years.

But it was her plea to stop the law before it “literally kills” women, children and seniors that got the most headlines. That’s a particularly curious claim considering that the law will increase health care coverage for an estimated 27 million more Americans by 2017, and studies show that those lacking health insurance have a higher chance of dying prematurely.

Bachmann made her claims during a March 21 speech on the House floor — two days before the third anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act — where she urged for the law to be repealed.

Bachmann, March 21: You see, what he demanded and insisted upon was that the government have 100 percent control over health care. One hundred percent control? The American people lose control? What did they get? They get health care, health insurance, I should say, that’s more expensive than anything they’ve ever paid for before, and they get less for it. Well, what a deal, Mr. Speaker. What a deal. The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let’s not do that. Let’s love people. Let’s care about people.

Bachmann claims vulnerable women, children and seniors will “pay more” and “get less,” but she overlooks services that they stand to benefit from.

In August 2012, the law began covering 22 preventive health services for women, such as mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer, without additional cost sharing. And in January 2011, the law began helping seniors by providing a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs when they reach the gap in prescription drug coverage known as the “donut hole.” Plus the law extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program for two more years through 2015.

As for her plea to stop the law before “it literally kills” women, children and seniors, Bachmann has long been suspicious of the law’s creation of the Independent Payment Advisory Board. It was about this time last year when she warned that the board would lead to less care for seniors and “the collapse of the greatest health care system in the world, killing quality care for all Americans.” But we’ve written on many occasions that the law prohibits the board, which is responsible for suggesting ways to slow Medicare spending, from rationing care or restricting benefits for seniors.

As we’ve also written before, scores of studies have found that thousands of deaths each year in the United States can be attributed to a lack of health insurance. Some of the studies adjusted for high-risk behaviors — such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and income — to account for other factors that result in premature deaths. (For a more detailed discussion of the studies see our Sept. 24, 2009 item, “Dying from Lack of Insurance.”)

It’s also not true that the government will “have 100 percent control over health care,” as Bachmann claimed. We’ve said before that the new law expands existing federal programs, establishes new subsidies and imposes additional regulation of health insurance companies. But it doesn’t come close to establishing a government-run system, such as those in Britain and Canada. Instead, the federal law builds on the current system of private insurance, and creates more business for private companies by mandating that individuals buy coverage.

Bachmann’s impassioned House speech reminded us of remarks that Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida made in 2009, when he claimed that the Republican alternative to the health care overhaul was: “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.” He later explained that he meant that the Republicans had “no plan.” But, as we said then, Grayson was “wrong that the Republicans have ‘no plan,’ whether he likes it or not, and it certainly doesn’t boil down to ‘die quickly.'”

For Grayson and now Bachmann, the facts simply don’t match their hyperbolic claims.

— D’Angelo Gore