Checking the facts behind ACA claims

Posted: September 09, 2013

Lori Robertson has been covering the Affordable Care Act from the earliest debates on it in 2009.

A journalist for FactCheck.org, the nonpartisan nonprofit that monitors the accuracy of e-mails, viral claims, and statements by politicians, Robertson researches and writes about many statements involving the ACA. "We fact-check all sides," she said.

Now is a hectic time for her group, part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, because the law is reaching its climactic phase.

Here's a sample of statements and claims FactCheck.org has checked on Obamacare.

Claim: Congress is exempt from the law. Members of Congress and their staffs get insured through the Federal Employees Health Benefits program. But the act requires members and their staffs to buy insurance through the marketplace that opens on Oct. 1.

The way the provision in the law is written has caused some confusion about who is a congressional staff member. The Congressional Research Services ruled the law didn't apply to staff leaders or committee staff members. More recently, the Office of Personnel Management decided each legislator should determine who is on his or her staff and who should be designated something else.

"Even if staffers on the Hill are getting their health care through the Federal Employees Health Benefits, as they did before, they would still be required to get insurance under the law and still face penalties if they didn't," Robertson said.

Claim: 8.2 million Americans can't find full-time work due to Obamacare. The argument, made by the Republican National Committee, assumes that all 8.2 million Americans working part-time cannot find full-time jobs. Robertson went to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found that not only are there fewer part-time workers today than in 2010, when the law was passed, but the number has been trending down. So, based on labor statistics, the law hasn't influenced the number of part-time workers.

That the law is a job killer is another common claim by the anti-ACA faction. They cite a Congressional Budget Office report that says the law would reduce labor in the economy by one-half of 1 percent. But that wasn't all the CBO report said. Robertson said the CBO noted that most of the job loss would be because health-care subsidies would make people financially better off and they could retire early, reduce their hours, or leave a part-time job.

FactCheck.org also talked to economists outside government who said any job loss would be small.

Claim: 8.5 million Americans will receive rebates this year averaging about $100 each because of the health-care law. The ACA requires insurers to spend at least 80 percent of premium income on care. If insurers don't, they must reimburse policyholders the difference. But the Obama administration is being disingenuous by saying 8.5 million Americans will get rebates.

Technically, yes, rebates are being paid out. But only a fraction of the 8.5 million people cited will get them, Robertson said. That's because most people have health insurance through their employers. They most likely will never see a penny because the money will go to their employers, who can do whatever they want with it.

Also, the president has repeatedly said the average rebate will be $100. He's right if he's talking about families and not individuals.

Claim: If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. The president has repeatedly told Americans the ACA will not force them to change plans or doctors. And he's right, if a little misleading, Robertson said. The law won't force anyone to change doctors or policies. But Robertson said the president can't ensure that an employer will stay with the same plan, or that you will have the same plan if you change jobs. And if you are on the exchange, you may have to change both your doctor and plan. FactCheck ruled the statement misleading

The claim that the government will come between you and your doctor is simply false, Robertson said. The myth has its roots in the early days of the health debate, when there was talk of a government-run system. While the ACA does mandate new regulations and does expand Medicaid, there will also be a very large expansion of private insurance. So FactCheck calls the claim that the ACA will come between patient and doctor false.

Claim: Premiums are going up because of the law; premiums are going down because of the law. This argument has been around from the outset. The Obama administration continues to claim that premium prices will drop, while Republicans say premiums under the act will soar. The answer is, it depends on what you mean by up and down.

When the administration says premiums will fall, it means premiums will go down compared to where they would have been without the ACA, Robertson says.

On the other hand, Republicans point to increases in employer-sponsored plans to show rising prices. The fact is the ACA really hasn't affected employer plans beyond adding some coverage, such as keeping children on their parents' policy until age 26. But FactCheck did find that employer-sponsored plans have gone up in the last few years, albeit at a historically low rate.


Contact Robert Calandra at 215-836-0101 or R.calandra@comcast.net.

This story was produced in partnership with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health-policy research and communication organization not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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