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Health Insurance Reform Daily Mythbuster: The Latest Distortion-Filled Email Chain

Health insurance reform opponents continue to spread myths - now about the recently introduced Affordable Health Care for America Act. Below is a line-by-line debunking of the latest distortion-filled email chain making the rounds on the Internet.

MYTH: 'Page 94-Section 202(c) prohibits the sale of private individual health insurance policies, beginning in 2013, forcing individuals to purchase coverage through the federal government'

FACT: The House bill does NOT prohibit the sale of private individual health insurance policies. Instead, it helps to make the private health insurance market work better - improving prices through competition and choice for consumers through the creation of a one-stop shopping marketplace called a Health Insurance Exchange by 2013. Individuals looking to purchase insurance will be able to choose among products offered by private companies and the public option that best fit their family's needs. This competition is desperately needed-many areas of our country are dominated by just one or two private insurers today. But no one will be forced to purchase a public option -- it will be up to consumers to choose their plan, either public or private, within the Exchange.

The Pulitzer prize-winning Politifact Web site called out Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota for making this claim-dubbing it a 'pants on fire lie' and saying 'she should read the 1,989 pages.'

MYTH: 'Page 110-Section 222(e) requires the use of federal dollars to fund abortions through the government-run health plan-and, if the Hyde Amendment were ever not renewed, would require the plan to fund elective abortions'

FACT: To the contrary, the House bill continues the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for paying for abortions except in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. In addition, the House bill explicitly PROHIBITS any federal funds to be used to pay for abortions (except for the Hyde amendment exceptions) - including stipulating that no taxpayer-funded Affordability Credits will pay for abortions in private or public insurance on the Exchange. Section 222 of the House bill also explicitly prohibits abortion services to be included in the basic benefits package on the Exchange (page 109). (In addition, there are ongoing discussions regarding the provisions in the bill possibly being further modified before the House votes on the bill.)

MYTH: 'Page 111-Section 223 establishes a new board of federal bureaucrats (the 'Health Benefits Advisory Committee') to dictate the health plans that all individuals must purchase-and would likely require all Americans to subsidize and purchase plans that cover any abortion'

FACT: First of all, the Health Benefits Advisory Committee is NOT a board of federal bureaucrats; it will mostly be made up of individuals in the private sector - such as health care providers, consumer representatives, employers, labor, health insurance issuers, and independent experts. Secondly, it does not 'dictate' health plans; its primary role is to make recommendations to HHS about the minimum covered benefits that all insurance companies have to offer - in order to ensure that everyone has a health plan that provides them with adequate coverage. Finally, Section 222 of the bill explicitly prohibits abortion services to be included in basic benefits package (page 109).

MYTH: 'Page 211-Section 321 establishes a new government-run health plan that, according to non-partisan actuaries at the Lewin Group, would cause as many as 114 million Americans to lose their existing coverage'

FACT: This false estimate by the widely discredited insurance-company owned Lewin Group is based on legislation that is not being considered. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that employer coverage of health insurance will increase under the House bill, and that less than 10 million people who enter into the Exchange will choose the public health insurance option. Most Americans currently receive their health insurance through a employer-provided plan, and according to CBO, the House bill strengthens this employer-provided system - with even more Americans enrolled in employer-provided plans in 2019 under the House bill than under current law.

MYTH: 'Page 225-Section 330 permits-but does not require-Members of Congress to enroll in government-run health care'

FACT: It is true that the bill does not require Members of Congress to enroll in the public health insurance option. However, the bill does not require ANYONE to enroll in the public health insurance option. Providing affordable CHOICES to Americans is the whole point of reform. Under the bill, all those using the Health Insurance Exchange will have the choice of several private insurance plans, along with the public option. The only way anyone enters the public option is by their own individual choice. The bill simply includes a provision that provides Members of Congress the option of choosing the public health insurance plan, or keeping their private insurance group plan that is fully subject to all the reforms in the bill.

MYTH: 'Page 255-Section 345 includes language requiring verification of income for individuals wishing to receive federal health care subsidies under the bill-while the bill includes a requirement for applicants to verify their citizenship, it does not include a similar requirement to verify applicants' identity, thus encouraging identity fraud for undocumented immigrants and others wishing to receive taxpayer-subsidized health benefits'

FACT: Any individual applying for affordability credits will have to provide information to prove their identity, income and immigration status. In addition, the legislation sets up specific procedures to verify the information provided to ensure that those truly eligible are able to receive affordability credit. (Section 341) This claim actually reinforces that the bill will not give subsidies to people without legal immigration status.

MYTH: 'Page 297-Section 501 imposes a 2.5 percent tax on all individuals who do not purchase bureaucrat-approved health insurance-the tax would apply on individuals with incomes under $250,000, thus breaking a central promise of then-Senator Obama's presidential campaign'

FACT: The best way to curb rising health costs is to insure more Americans-so the average American family stops having to pay $1,000 extra each year to pay for emergency care for those who are not insured. In fact, it's the only way insurance reform works. Only with a bigger risk pool can the benefits of no discrimination for pre-existing conditions, no waiting periods, and no prices based on health status be enjoyed by all. For those holdouts who still decide not to buy affordable insurance, just as car insurance works, the House bill sets a fair penalty based on income. The bottom line is that few Americans are likely to pay to NOT have affordable insurance, instead of pay to be insured (with assistance based on income). Still, a hardship exemption applies if affordable insurance is not available.

MYTH: 'Page 313-Section 512 imposes an 8 percent 'tax on jobs' for firms that cannot afford to purchase ‘bureaucrat-approved' health coverage; according to an analysis by Harvard Professor Kate Baicker, such a tax would place millions 'at substantial risk of unemployment'-with minority workers 'losing their jobs at twice the rate of their white counterparts'

FACT: Kate Baicker's 2007 analysis is fatally flawed because it is based on legislation that is not being considered. The House small business exemption excludes 86 percent of firms from a requirement to provide coverage. If a business is required and chooses not to provide coverage for its employees, then to help fund coverage for their employees, businesses with payrolls of $500,000 and up will be subject to a 2 percent of payroll contribution up to an 8 percent payroll contribution for businesses with payrolls of $750,000 and more. For small businesses who choose to cover workers, a tax credit will make it much more affordable. For those who do not, their workers can enter the Health Insurance Exchange with lower premiums like those a large group can negotiate, and with Affordability Credits to help them pay the premiums.

MYTH: 'Page 336-Section 551 imposes additional job-killing taxes, in the form of a half-trillion dollar surcharge, more than half of which will hit small businesses; according to a model developed by President Obama's senior economic advisor, such taxes could cost up to 5.5 million jobs'

FACT: The non-partisan Joint Committee on Taxation finds that only the wealthiest 1.2 percent of all 'small business owners' would be affected-and they would fall into the 3/10ths of one percent wealthiest Americans who would pay the surcharge. A small business owner is defined as anyone with as little as $1 of business income. The health care surcharge would only be assessed on net profits of the small business above $1 million for joint filers and $500,000 for single filers - after employee salaries, business expenses, etc. are deducted from the adjusted gross income of small business owners. The wealthy business owners who will pay the surcharge are not what you would consider to be 'small business owners' - they include hedge fund managers, private equity fund managers, owners of privately held multinational corporations, and lawyers and lobbyists making millions of dollars. .

MYTH: 'Page 520-Section 1161 cuts more than $150 billion from Medicare Advantage plans, potentially jeopardizing millions of seniors' existing coverage'

FACT: The AARP says it best in their October newsletter: '...the changes actually aim to strengthen Medicare and improve beneficiaries' care and access to physicians...' And for those on Medicare Advantage specifically, AARP's Executive Vice President of Policy John Rother writes: 'Gradually eliminating these excess payments [to private Medicare Advantage plans] will permit good plans to continue and put pressure on others to offer better value to their enrollees... That's what fair competition is supposed to do.'

The House bill ends the overpayments to Medicare Advantage private insurance companies that have cost taxpayers billions more than traditional Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are currently paid, on average, 14 percent more than traditional Medicare providers - and overpayments to certain plans exceed 50 percent. By eliminating these overpayments, the Affordable Health Care for America Act protects the Medicare program so that it will be sustainable for seniors over time, restores equity in the program by putting plans on a level playing field with traditional Medicare, and requires MA plans to become more efficient competitors by refusing to continue to pad their payments.

MYTH: 'Page 733-Section 1401 establishes a new Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research; the bill includes no provisions preventing the government-run health plan from using such research to deny access to life-saving treatments on cost grounds, similar to Britain's National Health Service, which denies patient treatments costing more than £35,000'

FACT: Comparative effectiveness research, which has been funded by the federal government for years, has nothing to do with rationing. Instead, this research is simply about giving doctors information they need and want to better serve their patients. The bill explicitly prohibits the Center for Comparative Effectiveness Research and the Comparative Effectiveness Research Commission from using this research to define, limit, or deny treatment or services: 'RESEARCH MAY NOT BE USED TO DENY OR RATION CARE. Nothing in this section shall be construed to make more stringent or otherwise change the standard or requirements for coverage of items and services.' (Section 1401, page 761)

MYTH: 'Page 1174-Section 1802(b) includes provisions entitled 'TAXES ON CERTAIN INSURANCE POLICIES' to fund comparative effectiveness research, breaking Speaker Pelosi's promise that 'We will not be taxing [health] benefits in any bill that passes the House,' and the President's promise not to raise taxes on families with incomes under $250,000'

FACT: It is clear that the referenced fee will be paid by insurance companies, not policy holders. This is not a tax on benefits. The fee will likely cost insurance companies approximately $2 per policy they hold and go to fund research regarding the relative strengths and weaknesses of particular health care items, services and systems and how they work for particular patient populations. This research will improve the quality of information available to doctors in order to help them better serve their patients, and lower costs for insurers.