Busting health-care myths

BY JUSTIN SUGG | AUGUST 24, 2009 7:05 AM

Irrational rage and political fearmongering have drowned out the voices of truth and reason in America’s health-care debate. What was once a civilized discussion now resembles downtown Iowa City after the bars close. Falsehoods and propaganda from both sides of the argument are to blame.

Talk of death panels and killing grandma can raise anyone’s blood pressure; political pointing fingers prevents both sides from engaging in real discussion. Real discussion — and, hopefully, a resolution to these shenanigans — won’t happen until people begin weighing the facts, rather than the myths.

Here are four myths, debunked:

*Obama and his cabal of America-hating, Europhilic liberals will replace America’s free-market health-care system with a European-style, socialized one.

This is the crux of many a conservative argument, but is it true? Britain’s National Health Service has become the model of socialized medicine and a supposedly nefarious case study for American conservatives skeptical of a government-run plan. Part of England’s Ministry of Health, the service funds and manages health-care facilities and approves and denies medical procedures. Government spending pays for all procedures, and no patient pays up front.

All health-care bills currently up for debate have a better chance of making David Beckham starting quarterback for the Cowboys than they do of adopting a British-style system. Instead, the government would create what each bill calls a “gateway,” an office or bureau that would sell a variety of insurance policies, and potentially offer a “public option” plan for individuals and families.

*Republicans playing partisan politics are blocking health-care reform.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, lent some legitimacy to that claim by saying he’d vote against any plan that didn’t have approval from at least two to three Republicans. The reality is that Republicans don’t have enough power in any branch of government to block anything Democrats want to do. The Democrats do face opposition, however, from members of their own party. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is leading a group of centrist Democrats called the Blue Dogs in opposition to the plan’s immense cost.

*The government will provide free health care for lower- and middle-class Americans by taxing the rich.

President Obama repeatedly said he wouldn’t raise taxes on lower- and middle-class individuals during the campaign and after he assumed the presidency. He’s also said he wants a health-care reform bill that didn’t contribute to the deficit. These are nice sentiments, so it’s too bad he’ll have to sacrifice one for the other. The bill a House committee passed just before the summer recess would place a surcharge on all non-public-option policies the gateway would offer. An alternative proposal the Senate Finance Committee wrote would tax any income more than $1 million at approximately 5 percent. The Senate option is more popular, but, unfortunately, unsustainable. That bill — which Baucus has openly criticized — would contribute over $500 billion to the deficit, according to the nonpartisan research site Factcheck.org. If Obama wants reform to be budget neutral, he may have to go back on his word about taxes.

*The dreaded death panels will kill granny.

The death-panel idea comes from, among others, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and her interpretation of a section in the House bill offering consultant advice for long-term care. Palin argued the consultants would be more motivated to cut costs than give an elderly person proper advice because the section is part of a cost-cutting measure. There’s nothing explicitly in the section saying such a thing, and it’s now officially a myth: Senate leaders have said they will remove that option from any bill.

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