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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

In Florida Ad: Recycled Quote Still Wrong

A TV ad from the conservative Americans for Prosperity recycles an old  — and inaccurate — clip of Florida Rep. Steve Southerland blaming the Affordable Care Act for a “$1,200 increase” in health care premiums for the average American family.

That was wrong when Southerland said it in July 2012. And it remains so now.

The ad, which will run in Southerland’s Florida district for three weeks, is part of Americans for Prosperity’s push to boost Republican candidates in the 2014 midterm elections. Polls have shown Southerland is locked in a tight battle with Democrat Gwen Graham, a county schools official and the daughter of Bob Graham, a former Florida senator and governor.

While most of the group’s ads have focused on attacking Democrats, this ad praises Southerland for his steadfast opposition to the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the Southerland clip used in the ad is lifted from a short House floor speech Southerland delivered on July 10, 2012, in favor of a bill to repeal the health care law — marking the 10th time Southerland voted for repeal.

The ad begins with a narrator saying that Obama “told us the Lie of the Year” — a reference to PolitiFact’s annual award for political dishonesty — in claiming, “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan.”

“But our congressman, Steve Southerland, didn’t buy it,” the narrator says. It then cuts to a clip of Southerland speaking about the health care law.

“One million Americans will be at risk of losing their own current health care plan,” Southerland says. “The average American family will see a $1,200 increase in their health care premiums.”

The ad doesn’t indicate when Southerland made these comments, but it turns out they were made on the House floor on July 10, 2012, (page H4740), in support of a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Southerland, July 10, 2012: H.R. 6079 will end the individual mandate, the tax hikes on the small businesses–of which my family has been proud owners for many, many generations–the devastating cuts to Medicare, and the government intrusion into Americans’ private health care decisions.

While I am disappointed with the Supreme Court and with the decision that it made by not striking down the president’s health care bill, I remain committed to its full repeal. Under the health care law, over 1 million Americans will be at risk of losing their own current health care plans. The average American family will see a $1,200 increase in its health care premiums. Many of those families I know in our family community are going to be devastatingly impacted.

As I have said time and time again, bad procedure leads to bad policy, and two years ago–my goodness–on full display, we saw bad procedure. That’s why I stand here ready to cast my 10th vote in favor of repealing the president’s health care law.

Southerland was basing his claim about a $1,200 increase in family premiums on a 2011 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation that documented a 9.4 percent increase in the cost of average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance from 2010 to 2011, an increase that raised family premiums from $13,770 to $15,073. That’s a $1,303 increase. It marked a significant increase from the 3 percent growth rate in 2010.

First, that information is now outdated. Two more years of data on health care premiums are now available. And the picture has changed dramatically.

Second, the $1,300 increase is the total cost for both employers and employees — not $1,300 for the average family. In fact, the Kaiser Family Foundation report said that the increase in what workers contribute wasn’t “a statistically significant increase over the 2010 values.”

Third, and perhaps most important, Southerland’s comment ascribes all of the increase in family premiums to the Affordable Care Act. And that’s wrong. Health care costs had been rising year after year, long before the Affordable Care Act was passed. So it’s absurd to claim the law is responsible for all of the increase.

Here’s a Kaiser Family Foundation breakdown of average annual premiums for single and family coverage from 1999 to 2013.

The chart below shows the percentage change in the average cost of annual premiums for family plans.

As the chart indicates, the 9.4 percent uptick in 2011 was significant, but hardly unprecedented. It also shows the increase slowing in the subsequent two years, below the historical average. In other words, it makes no sense to associate the entire 2011 increase to the Affordable Care Act.

Soon after the 2011 report was released, Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman wrote in a column that the law was responsible for a “modest” 1 percent to 2 percent increase.

Altman, Sept. 27, 2011: Critics of the national health reform law passed in 2010 like to blame everything but the weather on “Obamacare,” but regardless of how you feel about the Affordable Care Act, its effect on premiums this year is modest. Most of the law’s provisions don’t go into effect until 2014. The two biggest changes this year allow young adults up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ insurance policies and require some insurance plans to cover preventive services at no cost to patients. These are popular provisions that provide real benefits, and combined they account for about one to two percentage points of this year’s premium increase.

When similar claims to Southerland’s were made by Republicans after the report was released, we also consulted with several experts  — as well as an independent study by a large private research firm — and all placed the effect of the health care law on premiums in the range of 1 percent to 3 percent.

So Southerland’s claim that the health care law was responsible for the entirety of the average premium increase was wrong when he said it in July 2012. Moreover, 2011 was a bit of an anomaly. As the above chart shows, average annual premiums for family coverage increased 4.4 percent in 2012 and 3.8 percent in 2013. Both of those figures are well below the average 7.7 percent increase between 1999 and 2013.

Just as premium growth has slowed, so, too, has national health care spending. President Obama has pointed to the historically low growth in spending to claim that the health care law is “bending the [health care] cost curve.” But we concluded that, too, was a great exaggeration, because experts said the down economy was the overwhelming reason for the decrease.

Matt McCullough, a spokesman for the Southerland campaign, said it was a bit unfair to fact-check a comment Southerland made in July 2012.

“That’s not something we’re still saying,” said McCullough, adding that Southerland still vehemently opposes the Affordable Care Act and that it is a “costly proposition.”

We can sympathize with a campaign having to defend a year-and-a-half-old quote used by an outside group in a TV ad. But the ad doesn’t make clear that the quote is old and based on an outdated report. Besides, it was wrong when Southerland said it in July 2012 — and it’s wrong now.

— Robert Farley