Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Fact-checking the Obama campaign film

The Obama campaign film "The Road We've Traveled" was directed by Davis Guggenheim, who has done documentaries on climate change and charter schools.

Davis Guggenheim has made documentaries on global warming (An Inconvenient Truth), education (Waiting for Superman)  and guitar players (It Might Get Loud). His latest film is about a president.

Guggenheim has produced the The Road We've Traveled, a 17-minute film for the Obama campaign that portrays the 44th president as a decider who has stuck to his principles (health care reform), made tough choices (the raid on Osama bin Laden) and managed to get the economy back on its feet.

We'll be fact-checking the film over the next few days and will be updating this story with our Truth-O-Meter items as we publish them.

The film makes several claims about the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health care law.  It says that because of the law, "2.5 million young adults now have coverage." We found an estimate that works out to about 2.5 million, but it's the top end of an estimated range. We rated the claim Mostly True.

It also says that "17 million kids can no longer be denied for a preexisting condition." We found some cherry-picking with this claim, that it takes the high end of an estimate and that it glosses over a key difference about who would be covered. We rated it Mostly False.

On a related health-care topic, the film claims that as a result of Obama’s policies, "Americans no longer will see their coverage dropped or capped when illness strikes." This refers to a widely publicized (and criticized) practice in which health insurers used sometimes innocent or inadvertent mistakes by applicants to retroactively rescind their coverage.

This issue was confronted head-on in the 2010 health care law. However, the law doesn’t stop companies from imposing limits on the number of visits to doctors, physical therapists and the like. And we thought it was worth noting that the number of people who experienced revocations of their insurance was quite small, averaging 5,449 per year from 2004 to 2008. That’s a far smaller group of people than were affected by the other two provisions cited by the film. We rated the statement Mostly True.

The film also says that when Obama took office, "The Bush administration had given the car companies $13 billion, and the money was now gone." Indeed, the money went quickly. But loans that had been made had been expected to be put to work right away to keep the companies in business while long-term plans were devised -- an important piece of information that the movie didn't mention. We rated the statement Mostly True.

The film repeats a talking point we've heard from the CEOs of GM and Chrysler, that the companies have repaid the loans they got from the federal bailout. We found that is partially accurate but leaves out important details -- the fact that loans to the old car companies have essentially been written off. We rated it Half True.