This is not meant as a standalone post but as a “ride-along” to this main post about the GOP’s dilemma on Obamacare. So I don’t recommend reading this without reading Queasy, Breezy, Beautiful (though you can read Queasy without reading this one. This one is just some extra info for those who want it while reading Queasy). I made a claim in the introduction to Queasy, stating that Republicans told an endless flow of outrageous lies throughout the entire Obamacare process – from the drafting of the law to implementation right up to today. So I thought I should provide a little bit of backup for that claim. I didn’t want to do it in that main post, because I didn’t want to get sidetracked from the primary intention of that post. So I’m writing this separate post to address that claim.
I won’t rehash all the claims made during the entire Obamacare debate here, because it would take a thesis length paper (or even a book!) to cover it all comprehensively. So I’ll just give you a few examples of the more popular claims – the myths that seemed to keep popping up over and over and over again, no matter how many times they were debunked.
And that’s what made the anti-reform propaganda effort by the Republicans so insidious. Their message was incessant, so all encompassing of every media platform, and so well tailored to press voters’ fear buttons, that it became the daily soundtrack for ordinary GOP voters out around the country, with the most effective stories working like those greatest hits songs that you just can’t get out of your head. So even when GOP elected officials did finally stop pushing a lot of these lies, by then, their voters had fully bought into and internalized them. So even today, you’ll still hear many of these claims repeated by regular citizens who oppose Obamacare, even if elected GOP officials are no longer actively selling them.
Lie #1: Death Panels
So my first example is the claim – begun as soon as the first draft of a health care bill was introduced – that Obamacare contained death panels. This claim was meant to terrify older voters (and probably anyone who loved an old person or hoped that they themselves might be one day be an old person) out of supporting Obamacare. The claim was originated by Betsy McCaughey, a “health care commentator” who seemed to get booked on political talk shows as an expert in the field despite having no particular expertise. But it really spread when Sarah Palin, still at the height of her popularity, shared a message about it on her Facebook page. Here’s a portion of what she wrote:
And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
The “death panel” whopper won Politifact’s 2009 Lie of the Year. It’s been debunked by Politifact, FactCheck.org and Consumer Reports, among others. You can find all of those links embedded in this discussion. This claim mostly died out (no pun intended) once the law actually started to take effect 4 years after its passage, as people were able to see for themselves that the death panels didn’t exist. But even today some Republicans are still dredging up this old favorite, like at this Florida town hall a couple weeks ago.
Lie #2: Secret Bill Rushed Through Congress
Next up is the claim that Democrats rushed the bill through Congress in a secretive process. In fact, the Obamacare bills spent more than a year going through numerous committees in both chambers of Congress. The Senate Finance Committee – made up of both Democrats and Republicans – held 31 meetings in the course of drafting the bill. Democrats had hopes early on that they would get some Republicans to sign on, so they took all of that time in the committees trying to get buy in from particular Republicans.
A big part of the reason that Republicans were able to stir up so much discontent about the law was that it was debated in Congress for so long before it even passed, during which time Republicans were able to spin all sorts of tales about what was going to be in it. And it was during that long year before the law passed that the Tea Party was able to disrupt so many town halls and hold so many rallies, adding to the perception of widespread discontent over the law.
Lie #3: Congress is Exempt from Obamacare
And finally, we have the false claim that Democrats exempted Congress from Obamacare. This one is a little complicated because it started out as one myth and then morphed into something else. At first it was the simple – and absurd – claim that Democrats actually put a provision in the bill saying that Congress wouldn’t have to abide by the mandate to buy insurance. This claim was just spun from thin air, based on absolutely nothing and completely false. In fact, not only was Congress subject to the mandate just like everybody else, but Democrats put an additional requirement on Congress that said members of Congress had to purchase their insurance through the Obamacare exchanges.
No other Americans have such a requirement. While the rest of us must purchase insurance (or pay a penalty), we may do so by whatever method we choose – through our employer if they offer it, through the Obamacare exchanges, or directly from a private insurer outside of the exchanges (this option is rarely mentioned and many people aren’t even aware of it, but in the individual market, some insurers sell insurance directly to customers outside of the exchanges, with no middle man). Despite this fact, Republicans immediately began claiming that Democrats had exempted Congress from the requirement to buy insurance.
Then a few years later, the claim morphed as circumstances surrounding the law changed. Things got more complicated a few years after the law passed, right before the new insurance plans were about to begin. Democrats realized that they didn’t want Congress (and particularly Congressional staffers, who are not highly paid but still make too much money to receive Obamacare subsidies) to lose the employer contribution to their health insurance. Like most people who get insurance through work, their employers (in this case, the government) had always paid a large portion of the premium for them. But when the switch was made to require them to purchase their own insurance on the exchanges, there was originally no provision for that to happen anymore. So that would’ve meant a huge, sudden lose in income for Congress members and all their staffers ($5000-10,000) via the health care benefit they’d no longer be getting.
This was only happening because of the unusual provision they’d written into the law that put a higher requirement on Congress in the first place (requiring them to buy insurance on the exchange). No other Americans who had been getting insurance through their employers would suffer a similar loss of income as a result of Obamacare. They would be able to continue getting insurance through their employers, the same as always.
So the Obama administration wrote a rule to fix the problem and allow Congress and its staff to continue to receive the same employer contribution that they had always received. It was not a new subsidy, and it was not any sort of special treatment that gave them something other Americans weren’t able to get. Even a writer at the conservative National Review had to admit how specious it was to claim this was some sort of special exemption. But that didn’t stop Republicans like Senators Ted Cruz and David Vitter, and Governor Scott Walker from making the claim anyway. And even today, Obamacare opponents are keeping alive this myth of the special Obamacare exemption for Congress.
Etc., Etc., Etc.
There’s a long list of other lies (or myths, if you prefer), such as that Muslims are exempt from Obamacare, illegal immigrants will get free health care under the law, doctors will be forced to pry into your sex life and more that Republicans propagated for years about Obamacare. I’m not going to cover the rest in any detail, but you can see just some of them catalogued here and here.
Yup, Obama Did It That One Time
And now, I have to be fair and acknowledge that Democrats did have one big Obamacare whopper of their own. A lie that was told on the Democrats’ side that they’ve paid for ever since. This was when Obama said, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it.” That was an incredibly dumb thing for him to say, and it earned him Politifact’s 2013 Lie of the Year award. Out of the entire insured population of approximately 262 million people, it’s estimated that only about 4 million people had their plans canceled. So less than 2 percent. But a lie is still a lie, and if you’re one of those 2 percent (and full disclosure, I was, though I’d be calling Obama out even if I weren’t) then you probably don’t care how small a percentage was affected. Republicans, conservative media, Obamcare foes, etc have not let him forget about it ever since. And that’s fair, he told a whopper, he deserves it. But engaging in propoganda was not Democrats’ general, overarching strategy for waging the Obamacare battle.