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Debunking Health Care Lies (by Reading the Bill)

August 13, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

With Congress preparing to vote on health care reform this fall, talk of what’s in the major House bill has been dominating the news and political blogs. Unfortunately, the public discourse about health care reform has been harmed by false claims, scare tactics, and lies.

At OpenCongress, we’ve had the official text of the House health care bill available online for a month for people to read and get the facts: H.R. 3200 – America’s Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009. Anyone can easily permalink and comment on any individual section of the full bill text. And in this debate, the facts matter — it’s imperative that as a nation we read the actual text of the bill and actively work to counter any misinformation about it. To be sure, it’s a long bill, and not easy to understand at first read. Some of the misinformation is intentional, and some is inadvertent. But whether you support or oppose this bill, we hope you agree that the misinformation surrounding it is harmful to the public debate and the formal legislative process on health care. In other words, news coverage and blog buzz and viral emails on the health care bill should refer to specific, citable sections of what the bill actually says — they must be reality-based.

We believe it is possible for every American to educate him or herself about what H.R. 3200 proposes as a major piece of federal legislation and how it would work in the context of the existing American health care system. More than that, we empower people to share these important facts with their friends and families, and to constructively contact their elected officials with their input. Towards these ends, we’ve put together this debunking of incorrect claims regarding H.R. 3200 by citing and linking to the empirically-verifiable sections of the official bill text. This is not intended to be a comprehensive analysis of everything in H.R. 3200, but rather a focused look at five specific provisions under collective scrutiny. To be sure, there is much more proposed in this bill than can be summarized in this one blog post. For now, then, let’s fight misinformation and look at the facts together:

Lie #1: The Health Care bill would set up government death panels

This lie has been widely circulated over email and in blog posts, recently and most prominently by Sarah Palin, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and others. Their claim is that language in the bill relating to “advance care planning consultations” would set up mandatory meetings in which government “death panels” would force senior citizens and others to sign some sort of early death pact. In reality, the bill language seeks to require Medicare to cover the cost of counseling sessions with doctors on end-of-life issues if a person chooses to have one. Currently, these kinds of sessions aren’t covered by Medicare, and people without extra money often can’t afford to have them.

Read the actual provision on end-of-life counseling in the official bill text >>

Here’s an interview with Republican Sen. John Isakson of Georgia, the lawmaker who has been pushing hardest over the years to get this passed. He calls Palin’s comment “nuts” that her “baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s death panel,” and says the provision is about giving people the authority to decide if they want an end-of-life consultation. “It empowers you to be able to make decisions at a difficult time rather than having the government making them for you.”

Lie #2: The bill would make private health insurance illegal

This falsehood comes from a widely circulated Investor’s Business Daily editorial claiming that a provision on page 16 of the bill would “outlaw individual private coverage.” The portion of the bill they are referencing, Sec. 102 (a), defines “grandfathered health insurance coverage” and reads as follows: “Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day” of the year the legislation becomes law."

Read the provision on grandfathered health insurance in the official bill text >>

… And when you do, scroll down to subsection C, which states that “Individual health insurance coverage that is not grandfathered health insurance coverage under subsection (a) may only be offered on or after the first day of Y1 as an Exchange-participating health benefits plan.” In other words, after the bill becomes law, all new health insurance plans would have to be purchased through the Health Insurance Exchange, which, according to a House committee summary, is a “marketplace for individuals and small employers to comparison shop among private and public insurers.” The provision Investor’s Business Daily latched onto in is, in reality, all about increasing choice and competition in the marketplace between both public and private health insurance options, not limiting choice.

Lie #3: The bill will give free health care to illegal immigrants

A viral email has been going around that claims to be a page-by-page analysis of the bill, but is actually just a bunch of made-up non-sense. The email persists in dozens of intentional misreadings and unfounded, unverified claims, but to knock down just one of them — one of the lines reads, “Pg 50 Section 152 in HC bill – HC will be provided to ALL non US citizens, illegal or otherwise.”

Read Pg 50 Section 152 in the official bill text >>

It states: “Except as otherwise explicitly permitted by this Act and by subsequent regulations consistent with this Act, all health care and related services (including insurance coverage and public health activities) covered by this Act shall be provided without regard to personal characteristics extraneous to the provision of high quality health care or related services.”

Now, the only section of the bill that could possibly be interpreted as “free health care” is Subtitle C, the “Individual Affordability Credits” section. The subtitle sets up a system of income-based credits for helping low-income people buy health insurance. At the end of the subtitle, it states clearly, “Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.” Going back to the section of the bill that was highlighted in the email, this prohibition on funds for illegal immigrants clearly qualifies under the language, “Except as otherwise explicitly permitted by this Act.” The email’s claim otherwise is demonstrably false. The rest of the email’s wild claims can be similarly disproved by referencing the empirical text of H.R. 3200.

Lie #4: Public money would be used to fund abortions

The same inaccurate email referenced above claims that two sections of the House bill would lead to “govt abortions.” House Minority Leader John Boehner [R, OH-8) has made similar claims. He stated in a National Review op-ed that the health care bill “will require [Americans] to subsidize abortion with their hard-earned tax dollars.” These claims, however, are false. There is nothing in the bill that would override the 1976 Hyde Amendment (full text of which is here in .pdf) prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions.

Read the two sections highlighted by the email in the official bill text >>

Abortion didn’t actually enter the Health Care debate until Rep. Lois Capps [D, CA-23] won an amendment in the House Energy and Commerce Committee that is designed to block taxpayer money from funding them. The Capps amendment would require that there be at least one health benefit plan providing coverage for abortions and one plan without such coverage in each state. If a public insurance plan did include abortion coverage, there would be a “segregation of funds” between federal money, namely in the form of affordability credits, and the individually paid premiums, which alone would fund abortion services. In summary: as under current federal law, no government funds would be used to pay for abortions under H.R. 3200, and anyone who claims otherwise has incorrect information.

Lie #5: The government will have direct, real-time access to individual bank accounts

This lie has been spread by Rush Limbaugh, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), and others. The false claim, as typified in this KFYI News piece, is that “Section 163 of the bill states that the government would be allowed real-time access to a person’s bank records – including direct access to bank accounts for electronic fund transfers.”

Read the section on administrative simplification in the official bill text >>

What this section refers to, as OpenCongress user kbarnard1367 points out, is not “real-time access to a person’s bank records,” but rather, real-time access for health care providers to information relating to a person’s insurance coverage:

"What’s the first thing you give the doctor? Your health insurance card. What do they do with it? Call the insurance company to see if you still have insurance. So instead of a phone call and a 5 minute wait the nice receptionist swipes your card in her computer and sends a message down the internet and gets a near “Real time” response that says yes this person still has insurance with us. Your pharmacy has been doing this for years.

… in other words, this section of the actual bill does not do what Limbaugh and Rep. Shadegg and others claim. They are demonstrably wrong (see above). It is simply a check on the status of an individual’s insurance coverage, one that already happens today and would be required under any possible system built on individual health insurance.

A few lines down, another section of the bill has been targeted as the part that would supposedly provide the government with private financial information.

One line of the section attempt to standardize electronic administrative transactions, such as electronic fund transfers that occur between insurance companies and health care providers for the purpose of administrative simplification. Another line would enable electronics funds transactions to allow “automated reconciliation” of health care costs. This would basically amount to nothing more than an automatic online bill-pay system for people to pay their premiums every month.

There is no language in H.R. 3200 that would make it legal for the government to have “direct, real-time access to individual bank accounts.” The bill even includes basic requirements that all personal data that is collected under the provisions is used in a matter that meets privacy and security laws, and it restricts “inappropriate” uses, “including use of such data in determinations of eligibility (or continued eligibility) in health plans.”

We welcome your questions and comments about the debunking above, as well as your suggested additions and factual clarifications — just send us an email: But more importantly, write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel about H.R. 3200. Join or login to your free “My OpenCongress” profile in order to take full advantage of all the ways the site empowers you to get involved with Congress. For more ways individuals and organizations can use OpenCongress to keep their communities up-to-date with the latest about the issues they care about, visit our friendly how-to guide.

On the bill page for H.R. 3200 you can see more useful resources, including :: official Congressional actions, recent news coverage, highest-rated blog coverage, top-rated user comments, a free bill status widget (or grab a Congress, I’m Watching widget), links to dozens more Hot Bills by issue area, and more. In the right-hand sidebar of the bill page there are built-in tools to read the full official bill text, give a personal vote “aye” or “nay”, write your Representative with your opinion directly from that page, subscribe to bill updates over RSS or email alerts, share that bill over social networking services (e.g. Facebook) and social sharing/bookmarking services (e.g. Digg, Reddit), send us feedback, and more.

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Displaying 1-30 of 163 total comments.

  • Filtered Comment [ show ]

  • Comm_reply
    bluegrass 08/13/2009 11:51am

    “With the pretense of talking facts and reading the bill, you avoid and omit certain details that are also facts and also in the bill.”

    Like what? Please show us.

  • Comm_reply
    broofener 08/14/2009 9:06pm

    Well to start off with you failed to include, um lets see, Sections 432-440, and then you skipped sections 443-450. I’m not sure why you skipped 443-450, but you can check the link , and get a real good idea what section 440 has to say and why it was – How did the poser put it? “omit certain details that are also facts and also in the bill”, or maybe just overlooked.

  • Comm_reply
    bluegrass 08/15/2009 8:22am

    I don’t see a “Section 432”. Do you mean page 432-440? 432-434 seem to be about the voluntary living will consultations. I don’t see what you object to in the rest of those pages. Feel free to quote directly from the bill what you’re concerned about.

    Here is Section 440:


    (a) Purpose- The purpose of this section is to improve the well-being, health, and development of children by enabling the establishment and expansion of high quality programs providing voluntary home visitation for families with young children and families expecting children."

    It’s voluntary. They’re not going to storm your house to educate your children.

    See, this is why you need to read the bill.

  • Comm_reply
    yoder 08/13/2009 12:15pm

    “being turned into the typical democrat vs republican, liberal vs conservative, bull crap vs bull sh** argument that does nobody any good.”

    That is precisely what this blog did NOT do.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 08/13/2009 12:59pm

    can you be more specific? i’m not sure what you’re really saying here.

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 09/12/2009 4:39am

    How about fact vs fiction?

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 08/13/2009 1:54pm

    Pro-reform people have been trying to talk details for months, but the anti- folk don’t want to listen. They’d rather disrupt the conversation and spread propaganda.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/13/2009 7:31pm
    Link Reply
    + -1

    that is actually false they tried to pass this before the august recess before the public could read this bill.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/15/2009 12:41pm

    Could someone please explain the opencongress rating systems, why would my post receive a negative rating when it is factual?

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/13/2009 7:28pm

    They raised 5 points that are often debated in this bill and links to the bill to show how they formed their opinion. That is productive debate that is how we learn. Do I smell a fallacy of composition in their argument? you bet, but what the heck, nobody can be can be completely unbiased. The political hacks are to a minimum on this site. By avoiding the words “republican”, “democrat”, “liberal”, and “conservative” you keep people listing ,once you use one of those words it means you no longer consider the person you are communicating with an individual or human and therefor can not have an intelligent/rational conversation with them. How can you have a rational conversation with something you do not consider a human? If you disagree with what was wrote go to the bill and make reference to where they were wrong and then report back.

  • davidmoore 08/13/2009 11:24am

    Hi Matt – David with OpenCongress here. We are indeed talking facts and reading the bill regarding the five sections mentioned up top. We don’t purport for this blog post to be a comprehensive overview of everything the bill proposes to do, but we undeniably cite five specific sections of bill text above to counter misinformation. Arguments are important, and it’s important that arguments are factual. We’re talking real details above, hope you will help spread the word.

  • Comm_reply
    smgriffith 08/14/2009 11:03am

    David – the text of the article is informative and well constructed. I take exception to the title and tilt of the phrasing. My initial reaction was that this isn’t impartial or unbiased. You could have accomplished the same corrections without the word “Lie” throughout the article. It diminishes credibility when you are using such a strong word that is becoming associated with the party line arguments. It may be small, but to get a constructive discussion going, I think it would best to avoid the inflammatory words. In any case, I like the topic and the text, nicely done.

  • DanG 08/13/2009 11:41am

    In re: Lie #2: The bill would make private health insurance illegal.

    What about the fines (ahem… extra taxes) for not carrying ‘acceptable coverage’? While the language doesn’t render being self-insured illegal, you must realize that you are dealing with the population at large, and in the vernacular, any activity that results in a fine/extra payment, is because the activity is verboten/illegal.

    This bill not only forces individuals to acquire health insurance, but forces them to be insured to a specific level of care (regardless if they want to pay for that level of coverage, or not) or else they will have to pay the IRS (i.e. the choice is to pay the insurance company for services/coverage that is not wanted, or to pay the IRS).

  • Comm_reply
    Anonymous 08/21/2009 8:00pm
    Link Reply
    + -1

    This line of reasoning seems right on the money, since when did the Federal Government getting involved with any issue make it better for the taxpayer? So now health care is not expensive enough for the middle class or should I say the only class taxpayer they want to inflate it more, under the guise of health care reform. “Just say no!”

  • bluegrass 08/13/2009 11:49am

    Would it damage the bill to allow insurers to still offer individual plans outside of the exchange? It seems like there would still be an incentive to offer their plans on the exchange anyway, as most individual plan purchasers would rather leverage the bargaining power of the exchange rather than set out on their own, but there would still be the option to buy and sell outside of the exchange.

  • Comm_reply
    mtalexan 08/13/2009 8:00pm

    Absolutely. If you look at what invokes the non-compliance tax, Sec.401 amended text 59B(d)(2)(A) ( it specifically says any QHBP compliant insurance exempts you from the tax. Since that’s defined as different from HIE participating insurance in Sec.121(b) ( there will likely be a very active non-HIE market for QHBP compliant insurance, especially since all one-off/exempt services can only be packaged with a Premium plan in the HIE, while there’s no such limitation for non-HIE QHBP compliant plans.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/13/2009 8:47pm

    if you look at section 202(d) it defines QHBP compliant insurance as the VA, members of the military, medicare, Medicaid, state employee insurance plans and grandfathered policies.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/13/2009 8:19pm

    that can not be done because of the “community rating” and “guaranteed issue” policy requirements. Anyone that could opt for a policy out side of the exchange system to avoid the community rating and guaranteed issue policies would do so (CR an GI policies currently cost 2-3 times as much as regular policies). That would make the exchange a place only for people with existing conditions or people that just got sick, putting only the people that insurance companies loose money on in the exchange, no insurance company would participate in a system that costs them more money then they make. CR and GI policies are the equivalent of buying home owners insurance after your house has burnt down and the insurance company being forced to pay for the fire damages.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/15/2009 10:47pm

    I just did an exercise all should do, I went to and put in my zip code 80202 then a zip code from Massachusetts 02019 since they are one a few state that meet the requirements for the government health insurance plans. My cheapest bare bones policy for Denver (for a smoker) was $64 a month for Massachusetts the cheapest was $218 a month and that was with a $2000 deductible so that plan won’t meet the qualifications for this bill. the plan that comes closest to meeting the requirements for this bill(o deductible) is $354 a month

    I suggest everyone go to enter your zip code and get a quote then get a quote as if you lived in Massachusetts 02019, that should give you an idea if insurance rates will have to go up in your state if this bill passes.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/16/2009 9:50am

    I just did it for my family (2 adults one teen) , I can currently get a high deductible plan for $222 a month, but to get the Ma plan with zero deductible its $1400 a month, but that plan had a $20 copay so the rate will have to be higher then that. How many people do you know that can afford an extra $1200 a month. The $222 policy has a $7,500 deductible but that could be paid for with the difference of 6.3 months of payments of the new required plans.

  • yoder 08/13/2009 12:19pm

    This blog, and more like them, are precisely what this country needs.

  • DrMcNugget 08/13/2009 1:05pm

    To Donny Hall & the rest of OpenCongress,
    I intend only to echo the user “yoder”: this is what the country and the debate need. I believe very much in the principle of free speech, but I believe even more strongly in the principle of free speech based on factual information. I enjoy debate on big issues from both sides of the aisle when it is intelligent and substantive; needless to say, I have been pulling my hair out lately watching people cite blatantly false information and then watching the media report their opinions with straight faces; such journalism is irresponsible at best. It doesn’t MATTER what Palin, Grassley, and Coburn are telling us about the health care proposals if their claims are outright lies and scare tactics. I wish the “mainstream media” would call these figures out for what they are: liars.
    Thank you, all, for using facts to support, well, the facts. Our nation is indebted to you for this service.

  • abaratar 08/13/2009 4:11pm

    Lie # 1 from the bill, it clearly states that doctors should counsel old people about starving themselves to death I cut and pasted this from the bill.

    The level of treatment indicated under subparagraph (A)(ii) may range from an indication for full treatment to an indication to limit some or all or specified interventions. Such indicated levels of treatment may include indications respecting, among other items—CommentsClose CommentsPermalink

    ‘(i) the intensity of medical intervention if the patient is pulse less, apneic, or has serious cardiac or pulmonary problems;CommentsClose CommentsPermalink ‘(ii) the individual’s desire regarding transfer to a hospital or remaining at the current care setting;CommentsClose CommentsPermalink ‘(iii) the use of antibiotics; andCommentsClose CommentsPermalink ‘(iv) the use of artificially administered nutrition and hydration.’.
  • Comm_reply
    yoder 08/13/2009 5:46pm

    What are you trying to say?

  • Comm_reply
    mtalexan 08/13/2009 8:04pm

    And if you read the context, it’s specifying what amounts to a living-will and stating that assistance in formulation of such is covered by the end-of-life counseling coverage.

  • Comm_reply
    abaratar 08/13/2009 8:59pm

    but this is not the place of the government, these are issues to be discussed with your family and your preacher. People do not want there tax money to be spent by the government to tell old people how to starve themselves to death.

    This bill does in fact propose to pay for people to tell old people how to starve themselves to death, correct?

  • Comm_reply
    bluegrass 08/15/2009 8:28am


  • Comm_reply
    bluegrass 08/15/2009 8:28am

    The consultations are VOLUNTARY.

  • Comm_reply
    bluegrass 08/15/2009 8:33am

    “but this is not the place of the government, these are issues to be discussed with your family and your preacher. People do not want there tax money to be spent by the government to tell old people how to starve themselves to death.”

    The consultations are VOLUNTARY. And the government is not deciding ANYTHING, they’re not even involved in the conversation—they’re just paying for it once every five years IF YOU WANT IT. The conversation is directly between you and your doctor or whatever professional you choose for the consultation, and the only purpose is to explain the options to you, not to make the decision for you.

    If you don’t understand what a living will is, maybe you should find out before commenting on it.

    “This bill does in fact propose to pay for people to tell old people how to starve themselves to death, correct?”

    Incorrect. Read the bill.

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