Monday, October 20th, 2014

PolitiFact's Five Surprising "True" ratings

One of our most surprising True claims is one by Sen. Mitch McConnell going back to the day Jesus Christ was born.
One of our most surprising True claims is one by Sen. Mitch McConnell going back to the day Jesus Christ was born.

With our Lie of the Year, we focused on the biggest falsehoods of 2009. But we also want to highlight our findings at the other end of the Truth-O-Meter, the many items we determined were True. We're a skeptical bunch here at PolitiFact, so we chose five True ratings that surprised us.

1.)  Preventive care does not save the government money. (David Brooks, Aug. 14, in an interview on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer )

The logic behind preventive care seems simple enough: stopping illnesses before they happen will mean fewer pricey procedures at the hospital and lower health care costs for all. Not so, said columnist Brooks. 
 
Brooks said President Barack Obama claims that "preventive care saves money," but the reality is "that's not true. ... If you're testing people, say, for an illness, you have to give 100 people a test to get five people — to find five people. Now, preventive care is good for health. Everyone agrees on that. But if you look at the CBO studies and the other research, it doesn't save you money. We should do it. But because you have to test so many people to get the few you're really going to prevent serious illness from, you're really not adding up to a lot of cost saving."
 
The finding Brooks referenced -- from an Aug. 7, 2009, letter by CBO director Douglas Elmendorf -- was that "the evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall." That's because the cumulative cost of many tests could be quite expensive. 
  
2.) To give the economic stimulus plan some perspective, "if you started the day Jesus Christ was born and spent $1 million every day since then, you still wouldn’t have spent $1 trillion." (Mitch McConnell, Feb. 1, in appearance on CBS' Face the Nation )

Senate Minority Leader McConnell, R-Ky., sought to put the proposed economic stimulus bill into some sobering perspective. We saved you from counting zeros on your online calculator by doing a quick and dirty assessment of whether the analogy is right.

We went with the commonly accepted theory that Jesus was born around 4 B.C. So we've come 2012 years since the birth of Christ. Now, 2,012 times 365 (yes, we are aware there are leap years ... don't be like that) times $1,000,000 is $734 billion, give or take a few hundred million.

The final stimulus bill checked in at $787 billion. So not only was McConnell right that $1 trillion is more than spending $1 million a day since Jesus was born, but the stimulus bill itself was also more than $1 million a day since Jesus was born.

3.)  "Switzerland and the Netherlands . . . cover all their citizens using private insurers, and they do so for much less cost." (Matt Miller, Sept. 8, in a Washington Post op-ed)

It has almost been an article of faith that Americans will never warm to a predominantly government model of health care. So Miller, a former Clinton White House aide now working as a management consultant, pointed to two countries — the Netherlands and Switzerland — as useful models for the American health care reformers because they have private insurance but still manage to provide universal coverage.

"Both have pioneered market-based universal health care," he wrote. "Both cover all their citizens using private insurers, and they do so for much less cost — 10 percent of gross domestic product for the Dutch and 12 percent for Switzerland, compared with 17 percent in the United States, where nearly 50 million people are still uninsured."

In both countries, citizens must buy health insurance from a company that has to provide the customer with a basic package of services defined by the government. Subsidies are provided for people who need them. Because everyone is covered, the insurers can spread their financial risk across a large and diverse group of beneficiaries. Companies cannot compete against each other on the basic package (and in Switzerland, any profit they make on basic services must be used to reduce premiums the following year). Instead, they can make a profit by offering supplementary packages that cover certain services such as dental care, eyeglasses and cosmetic surgery. In Switzerland, many insurers also provide life insurance or homeowners insurance.

The scale of government mandates and restrictions for private insurers in the Netherlands and Switzerland goes well beyond what is practiced by the U.S. government. But the insurers are indeed private, profit-seeking companies, as Miller said they were . He was also correct that both countries have universal coverage, and that both nations spend less on health care than the United States does.

4.)  "In some states, it is still legal to deny a woman coverage because she's been the victim of domestic violence." (Michelle Obama, Sept. 18, in a speech)

When the first lady gave a speech about the importance of health care reform to women, she cited several reasons she thinks the current system is gender-biased. "Women are affected because, as we heard, in many states, insurance companies can still discriminate because of gender," she said. "And this is still shocking to me. These are the kind of facts that still wake me up at night. ... In some states, it is still legal to deny a woman coverage because she's been the victim of domestic violence." 

She was right that denying coverage due to a history of domestic abuse is still legal in some states. Those states are Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wyoming, and the District of Columbia, according to the National Women's Law Center.

To be fair, just because it's legal in some states for insurance companies to cite domestic violence as a pre-existing condition, it doesn't mean that insurance companies are taking advantage of the law. Back in the 1990s, there is evidence that denials were common, but examples now are hard to come by, because people who get coverage through an employer don't usually face exclusions about pre-existing condititions. Only people who apply for individual coverage would, and companies don't have to disclose the reasons for denying someone.

Still, the law is the law, and we rated Michelle Obama's statement True .

5.)  Obama has admitted a cap-and-trade plan would cause electricity bills to "skyrocket." (Sarah Palin, Nov. 17, in her book Going Rogue )

"The president has already admitted that the policy he seeks will cause our electricity bills to 'skyrocket.' Sadly, those hit hardest will be those who are already struggling to make ends meet," she wrote. She was referring to the policy proposal known as "cap and trade," by which the government sets a cap on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. To comply, companies such as electric utilities would either upgrade to cleaner technologies or buy credits — also known as allowances — to continue polluting. Companies could buy and sell the credits as necessary to conduct their business.

Obama's original quote came from his campaign, in a videotaped interview with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board in January 2008. "Under my plan of a cap-and-trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket," Obama told the Chronicle . "Coal-powered plants, you know, natural gas, you name it, whatever the plants were, whatever the industry was, they would have to retrofit their operations. That will cost money. They will pass that money on to consumers."

A version of cap and trade now pending in Congress includes a number of measures to offset higher utility bills for consumers. So it's hard to say how much rates would go up for consumers; figures on the right and left offer widely varying estimates.

Still, there's little disagreement that consumers will pay, in some fashion, for cap and trade. Palin got Obama's words right, so we gave her a True .