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Brown-Waite's remarks on health care reform are more wrong than right

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has mischaracterized some aspects of the Democratic health care reform proposal.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite has mischaracterized some aspects of the Democratic health care reform proposal.

As the member of Congress representing the district that has the most Medicare recipients, Ginny Brown-Waite has a lot to say about health care reform. The Brooksville Republican is a vocal critic of Democratic reform plans, as evidenced by her remarks at a town hall meeting last week in Minneola. But sometimes her rhetoric doesn't match the facts. We took a look at a few of her claims via the Times' political fact-checking Web site, PolitiFact.com. Go to the site for more details and sources, as well as other Truth-O-Meter rulings on the health care debate.

The statement

"People are saying that (bureaucrats) are going to be encouraging euthanasia in the end-of-life care. Well, believe me, that is not in the bill."

U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite at an Aug. 24 health care forum in Minneola

The ruling

Brown-Waite is correct in dispelling one of the most misleading allegations, spread by conservative commentator Betsy McCaughey and former Gov. Sarah Palin, about the House's health care bill, H.R. 3200. The bill does not make end-of-life counseling sessions mandatory and certainly doesn't tell people to end their lives early. Instead, the bill allows doctors for the first time to receive payment from Medicare for appointments with patients to discuss living wills and other end-of-life issues. These appointments are completely optional and the AARP supports the measure. Brown-Waite also suggested it's a worthy practice. According to the bill, "such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy." Medicare will cover one session every five years, the legislation states. If a patient becomes very ill in the interim, Medicare will cover additional sessions. We find Brown-Waite's statement accurate and rate it True.

The statement

"The president told us there are no proposed cuts to Medicare benefits for seniors. Unfortunately, he's just flat wrong."

Brown-Waite in a July 28 guest column for the Orlando Sentinel

The ruling

More than once, President Barack Obama has promised that his reform plans won't cut Medicare benefits. We rated that statement Half True. And, consequently, so is Brown-Waite's characterization. Let's start with some Medicare 101. Two plans exist: traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage, which is run by private insurers who are reimbursed by the government. Obama proposed cutting the growth in Medicare spending by reducing the annual payment for some services. This would save $196 billion. He also wants to save money on the Medicare Advantage program, which pays doctors more for services than traditional Medicare. It amounts to $156 billion over 10 years. This doesn't mean providers will stop caring of the elderly; rather they will receive less money for it. Nowhere in the bill are benefits actually eliminated. Other parts of the bill expand Medicare and make components less expensive. But experts differ on whether these payment changes will lead to reduced benefits. They say it is more likely for Medicare Advantage patients. For those patients, the basic benefits that mirror traditional Medicare will remain the same, but the extra benefits under the Advantage program could change. Brown-Waite, in the guest column, specifically addresses Medicare Advantage benefits, though the wording of her statement is less precise. She's right that it's a stretch for Obama to say the spending cuts won't affect Medicare benefits at all. But in calling the president "flat wrong" she also exaggerates the truth. For this, we rate her statement Half True.

The statement

"Any government-run 'public' plan … forces more employers to drop employee coverage due to rising costs and pay an additional 8 percent payroll tax for each worker."

Brown-Waite on Aug. 24 in a taxpayer-funded mailing to constituents

The ruling

Here, Brown-Waite confuses the issue by describing the entire health care reform effort as a "government-run 'public' plan." Actually, the bill Democrats have proposed leaves privately run, employer-sponsored insurance in place, with requirements that employer-provided plans meet new consumer protections after five years.

The public option, which would be a government-run plan, would be open only to individuals and small businesses that shop for coverage through a new national health insurance exchange, according to the House bill. Private insurers would also offer coverage on the exchange, though the public option is expected to be the least expensive. Calling the overall health bill a "public" plan is an exaggeration.

Also, the bill in Congress does not "force" employers to drop coverage due to rising costs, though conservative critics fear that might happen. The bill attempts to encourage more employers to provide insurance by instituting a new penalty. If employers don't offer insurance, they have to pay an 8 percent payroll tax, though small businesses are exempt.

Brown-Waite mischaracterizes the tax. It is intended to encourage more employer-sponsored coverage, not replace it. We rate her statement Barely True.

The statement

"Any government-run 'public' plan … gives the Institute for Comparative Effectiveness, a new government bureaucracy, the power to deny health care treatments depending on a patient's age, health condition and treatment cost."

Brown-Waite on Aug. 24 in a taxpayer-funded mailing to constituents

The ruling

As in her other statements in the mailer, Brown-Waite describes the entire health reform effort as a "government-run 'public' plan." It is not. A public option is one component, and the plan doesn't eliminate private insurance. But she makes a more significant distortion when it comes to describing the role of the Institute for Comparative Effectiveness. Others have done the same, including House Republican Leader John Boehner, who invoked the scare word "rationing." The House bill would establish the institute to conduct studies to find out which medical treatments and medications work better than others, and which are most cost-effective. The idea is that this would help doctors and patients make better-informed decisions about the most effective treatment strategies. It's also expected to save money over time. However, the House bill includes provisions to make sure comparative effectiveness is not used to deny health care treatments or ration care. It specifically states: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to permit the Commission or the Center to mandate coverage, reimbursement, or other policies for any public or private payer." Obama has said he hopes patients and doctors will want to use the most effective treatments, not that the government will require them to follow one procedure over another. Because she says the institute has the power to deny treatment when the bill clearly says it does not have that power, we rate Brown-Waite's statement False.

The statement

"Any government-run 'public plan … creates an entitlement that will cost another $1 trillion over the next 10 years."

Brown-Waite on Aug. 24 in a taxpayer-funded mailing to constituents

The ruling

Again, Brown-Waite describes the entire health reform effort as a "government-run 'public' plan." A public option is only a small part of the bill, and most aspects of private insurance are left in place. Brown-Waite is correct that the bill is expected to cost $1 trillion over 10 years, a figure confirmed by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. New taxes and cost savings offset some of those costs, but the CBO still found it would add $239 billion to the deficit over 10 years. So Brown-Waite is correct on the cost but off in the way she describes overall reform.

We rate her statement Half True.

The statement

"We are being told if you like (your health care plan), you can keep it. But that isn't going to be the case."

Brown-Waite at an Aug. 24 health care forum in Minneola

The ruling

Brown-Waite is aiming at one of the lines the president uses most often to describe his health care proposal: "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan." On one level, Obama is correct. His plan seeks to build on the current system — where most people get health insurance through their employers — not replace it. But the plans also introduce new ways of regulating health insurance companies that could prompt employers to change their health plans. Brown-Waite's statement insinuating that the government will make the decision is misleading. The truth is, employers are free to change policies now. So you can keep your health plan only if your employer decides to keep it. We rate her statement Half True.

Brown-Waite's remarks on health care reform are more wrong than right 08/29/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 29, 2009 2:07pm]

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