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Ad Audit: Conservatives For Patients’ Rights “Squeezes” The Truth

SPONSOR: Conservatives for Patients’ Rights

SUMMARY: The conservative lobbying group says health reform with a government option will “squeeze” Americans from all directions: higher taxes, an inflated deficit, skyrocketing premiums and lousy public health coverage. But the numbers don’t add up.

BACKGROUND: “Squeeze” is the latest in a series of ads from Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a multimillion dollar, non-profit lobbying group founded and funded by former hospital executive Rick Scott. Scott was ousted as chief executive officer of the Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America in 1997, after the hospital chain was investigated for fraud. In a plea agreement, the company paid $1.7 billion to settle the charges.

Scott started CPR in March 2009, seeding the group with $5 million of his own money to “promote free-market health care reform solutions” and lobby against President Barack Obama’s proposal for a government-run health care option. Creative Response Concepts, a conservative public relations firm known for its ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’ campaign during the 2004 presidential campaign, handles CPR’s messaging. “Squeeze” is running nationally on CNN and Fox News, and is part of a $1.4 million buy that began July 15th.

SCRIPT: “Some of Congress’ health care plans could squeeze you four ways. It could raise taxes by $600 billion-even taxing soda. It could add a trillion to the federal deficit. New rules could hike your health insurance premiums 95 percent. You still might end up on their government-run health plan. Tell Congress you’ve been squeezed enough. Say no to a government-run health plan.”

VISUALS AND SOUND: The ad starts off with jaunty percussive music and the words “Congress’s Health Care Squeeze.” A round-faced woman appears in a close up (in another version, it’s a round-faced man). Enter the words “raise taxes $600 billion” from the left side of the screen, literally squeezing her face into a grimace while a creaking, squeaking noise plays in the background. The woman looks up warily as the words “add a trillion to the deficit” push down the top of her head. “Raise your premiums up to 95% if you buy coverage” crushes her from the right, followed by “end up on government-run health plan,” which crunches her from below. By the end, her face is squished and distorted.

POLITICS: The ad plays off of declining public support for health overhaul legislation, as reflected in recent polls. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week, for example, found that 36% of respondents called Obama’s approach to health reform a good idea, while 42% said it was a bad idea. Respondents were evenly divided on the question in mid-June.

CPR also did its own national survey of 1,000 voters, asking questions such as “Please tell me whether you favor or oppose a plan that includes requirements that could cause premiums for private health insurance to increase as much as 95%.” Eighty-seven percent of voters opposed it.

ACCURACY: Although CPR lists individual sources for each statement in the ad, the facts are largely taken out of context, come from biased industry groups or have been discredited. “There’s absolutely nothing here that’s right. It’s unbelievable,” says John Holahan, director of the Health Policy Research Center at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

Fact #1: Health reform “could raise taxes by $600 billion-even taxing soda.” The ad cites a July 10 Associated Press article in Newsday reporting that House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel, D-NY., “has said his committee needs to come up with $600 billion in new taxes to deliver on Obama’s goal of sweeping changes to bring down costs and cover the 50 million uninsured.” The ad doesn’t note that the $600 billion is a figure over 10 years. Holahan says that number could turn out to be right, but it likely will be less. “There are all kinds of proposals out there, and [the cost] depends on the design choices, including how generous it is in terms of benefits and subsidies, what savings they can get out of Medicare and Medicaid and whether there’s a public plan.” And, a soda tax is just one of many proposed revenue-raisers, including a cap on the tax deductibility of insurance premiums, a tax on the wealthy and an alcohol tax.

Fact #2: Health reform “could add a trillion to the federal deficit.” For this one, the CPR cites a commentary from Fortune. The Congressional Budget Office did score the House tri-committee bill as having a total cost of around $1 trillion, but doesn’t mention that could accumulate over a ten year period, not in a single year. Holahan points out that an increase in the federal deficit means spending money without raising taxes. “It’s almost impossible to both say that you’re going to raise taxes by $600 billion and increase the deficit by $1 trillion-that means there’s no savings at all anywhere. That can’t be right.”

Fact #3: Health reform “could hike your health insurance premiums 95 percent.” This number comes from a study by The Council for Affordable Health Insurance, an advocacy group for insurance carriers in the individual, small group, HSA and senior markets. The CAHI study looked at what would happen if a health care overhaul banned insurance plans from determining premiums based on a potential customer’s risk factors, such as age and any “pre-existing conditions.”

The study finds that even with an individual mandate, eliminating all risk assessment would increase premiums by around 95% but does not include an explanation of how the numbers were derived. But Holahan says that, in the absence of health reform, premiums are “almost guaranteed” to grow 95% over a 10 year period.

Fact #4: “You still might end up on their government-run health plan.” The CPR cites a study from The Lewin Group. Republican lawmakers often quote the study as saying that a public plan would cause 119 million Americans to drop their private health insurance. But that was only under a scenario in which the public plan is open to everyone and paid providers at Medicare rates. Under other scenarios, the same study found that as few as 10.2 million Americans would drop out of private plans.

Holahan says “there are a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to come into the public plan at all,” including those who are eligible for Medicaid or who are already covered under most employer-provided plans.