House Democratic leaders last week released the health care bill they plan to bring to the floor, and it didn't take long for the Republicans to publish a laundry list of complaints about it.
We'll be exploring those complaints with a story we'll publish later today or tomorrow, but in the meantime, we'd like to explore one of the points made by Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota.
She made the statement on Oct. 30, 2009, on Sean Hannity's show on the Fox News Channel.
She said that on Page 92 of the new bill, "it says specifically that people can't purchase private health insurance after a date certain, which means people will ultimately go into a single-payer plan where it is government providing health care and only one single government system. That's why this is so bad, Sean. This is socialized medicine ... This is, as I said, the crown jewel of socialism. It's what Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have wanted from the very beginning." (See her comments starting about the 2:15 mark in this video .)
We won't rate her opinion that Democrats are proposing the "crown jewel" of socialized medicine, or her prediction that it will ultimately lead to a single-payer system. Instead, we're interested in Bachmann's claim that Page 92 of the bill prevents people from buying private health insurance after a certain date.
We not only find that she is misinterpreting that one page, but that she's also distorting the other 1,989 pages of a bill that would construct a system largely based on private health insurance. Her claim is a serious misrepresentation of a plan that relies on a marketplace of private coverage.
Bachmann's office did not respond to our call or an e-mail, but we found the language that she seemed to be referring to on Page 91 of the new bill: "The individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day of Y1."
To decipher it, we called Karen Pollitz, project director for the Health Policy Institute at the Georgetown University Public Policy Institute. She said it was a clause that allows people who would be eligible for coverage in the new health care exchange to keep an old policy they like.
"If you have a plan that's in effect prior to the effective date (of the exchange) and you like it, you can keep it," she said. (This is similar to a claim we checked back in July when the editorial page of Investor's Business Daily said the bill would outlaw private insurance . We rated that Pants on Fire.)
Here's how the exchange would work: Under the House bill, insurance companies would sell individual policies through a government-run health care exchange, and the government would set minimum standards for coverage. For example, the government would require companies to cover people even if they have pre-existing conditions such as serious illnesses or pregnancy. The government would also set levels for minimum coverage for services such as mental health coverage.
But if someone liked a plan they owned before the new law kicks in, they'd be able to keep the policy, no matter the level of coverage. The rules would largely prevent insurance companies from changing benefits in these grandfathered plans or altering the premiums.
So Bachmann is referring to language that prevents the health insurance companies from enrolling new people in old plans that don't meet the new standards, Pollitz said. Any plan sold after the new law is enacted must provide better coverage.
Bachmann is incorrect that people "can't purchase private health insurance after a date certain." To the contrary, a key principle of the bill is to create a new marketplace for people to buy private insurance. People who already get private coverage from their employer would continue to do so and should be able to shop for new plans with different coverage. People who are self-employed or work for small businesses will be able to buy private insurance through the new exchange.
In fact, the bill requires that everyone have some form of coverage, Pollitz said. "Not only do you have to [buy insurance], but you can" buy it after the bill goes into effect, she said. "There's no reasonable way to look at Page (91) and say that you couldn't."
Bachmann isn't just guilty of misinterpreting the language from one page of the bill. She's taken that misinterpretation to a ridiculous extreme — the claim that no private insurance could be sold after a certain date. That ignores the central tenet of a plan that's been discussed for months — that the plan would rely on a marketplace of private insurance. So we rate her claim Pants on Fire.