Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Obama makes the case for health care reform

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on health care.
President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress on health care.

Seeking to jump-start efforts to pass a health care bill, President Barack Obama defended his reform plan in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.

Obama repeated several of his principles for reform, rebutted attacks from critics, and sought to explain the complex plan so that voters could understand it.

Here's a guide to what Obama said and how his statements — or similar ones we've checked — fared on the Truth-O-Meter:

• The most controversial line of the night started with Obama's claim that illegal immigrants would not be covered under his reform plan. That prompted an outburst from Rep. Joe Wilson, a Republican from South Carolina, who shouted, "You lie!" We found Wilson was wrong and rated his heckle False .

• If you "already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have," Obama said.

We rated this True . Obama is correct that the plans currently under consideration do not force those who currently have insurance to immediately change plans. The plans do, however, implement new consumer protections and introduce new ways of regulating health insurance companies. These new rules will surely change the current health care system.

• Obama said that health care reform will require insurers to cover basic checkups and preventive care. "That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives," he said. It might make sense and save lives, but experts say it doesn't save money. Covering preventive care will cost the government more money than it saves. We rated his statement False .

• He refuted claims that health care reform would result in euthanasia or death panels for the elderly. We've looked into claims on both issues and found they were wrong. Sarah Palin said that seniors and the disabled "will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care." We rated that statement Pants on Fire because there's nothing in the bills to suggest such a scenario. Betsy McCaughey, a health care expert and the former lieutenant governor of New York, said the elderly would be required — "absolutely mandatory" — to undergo counseling on "how to end their life sooner." We rated that Pants on Fire , too. So Obama earns a True .

• Obama said his plan "incorporates ideas from senators and congressmen, from Democrats and Republicans — and yes, from some of my opponents in both the primary and general election." Our research shows that none of the plans that have graduated from congressional committees have received a single Republican vote. Though Congress adopted dozens of the amendments proposed by Republicans, we couldn't find any that dramatically altered the substance of the plan. We rated the statement that the plan takes ideas from Democrats and Republicans as Barely True . Obama did, however, take ideas from a primary opponent — Hillary Clinton. During the campaign, Obama opposed Clinton's idea of requiring everyone to have health insurance, a requirement known as the individual mandate. And Obama attacked her for it numerous times. In July, he said he had changed his mind and now supported the mandate. We rated his switch a Full Flop on our Flip-O-Meter, which tracks when political leaders change positions. 

• "Our overall efforts have been supported by an unprecedented coalition of doctors and nurses, hospitals, seniors' groups and even drug companies — many of whom opposed reform in the past," the president said. Obama used this point during a speech in July. He's correct that most in the health care industry support some sort of reform. But when we're talking about the overhauls that have been put to paper in Congress, there has been quite a bit of disagreement over which plan is best. Industry support isn't as rock-solid as Obama would make it seem. As a result, we gave him a Mostly True .

• Obama explained the broad outlines of reform, which we've covered in our story, Health care reform: A simple explanation . He also pointed out that reforms will cap out of pocket expenses. We rated that statement Mostly True when Obama adviser David Axelrod wrote it in an e-mail. Axelrod said the plan would end "exorbitant" expenses; the House bill limits expenses to $10,000 a year. For consumers, that's better than no limit, but it's still a lot of money to some people.

Obama made other claims that we've checked previously.

• Obama said that every day, "14,000 Americans lose their coverage." We looked into this in July and found that's it's based on a significant study that correlated lack of insurance with the unemployment rate, because people who lose their jobs also lose their employer-provided coverage. There are a few uncertainties about the number, which is an estimate, so we rated this statement Mostly True .

• Obama said that "we spend one-and-a-half times more per person on health care than any other country." That's correct. The United States in 2007 spent $7,290 per capita on health care, ranking it first among 30 countries studied by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group that represents 30 wealthier, industrialized countries. The second place finisher was the Netherlands at $4,417. We looked into these figures when Rep. Bernie Sanders said we spend twice as much as any other country. It's not that high, so we rated Sanders' statement False .

• "It has now been nearly a century since Theodore Roosevelt first called for health care reform." We looked at this a few months ago when Obama kicked off his efforts on health reform during a conference at the White House. We cracked open the history books and asked a few historians about this, and they agreed that Roosevelt was an early proponent of health care for all. Back then, the top concerns were eradicating malaria and ensuring supplies of clean water. We rated Obama's statement then True .