Stand up for facts and support PolitiFact.

Now is your chance to go on the record as supporting trusted, factual information by joining PolitiFact’s Truth Squad. Contributions or gifts to PolitiFact, which is part of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Poynter Institute, are tax deductible.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Ron Wyden
stated on November 17, 2009 in MSNBC's 'Morning Meeting With Dylan Ratigan':
In the House health care bill, "Something like 2 percent of the people would [be] eligible even to get the public option."
true false
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 18, 2009

Wyden mistakenly lowballs number of people eligible for public option

The House health care bill, with its exchanges, public option and nearly 2,000 pages of densely worded text, isn't the easiest thing to comprehend. So it's not surprising that even a senator with years of experience in health care policy can make a mistake while explaining it.

In a Nov. 17, 2009, appearance on MSNBC's Morning Meeting With Dylan Ratigan , Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he's trying to prod Senate leaders into including a version of the public option that goes further than what's in the House bill. The public option would be a government-run plan offered as one of many alternatives on the new health care "exchange." The exchange is designed to help uninsured Americans, as well as those who don't work for an employer who offers health coverage, find reasonably priced health insurance. Beyond some startup money from the federal government, the public option would be paid for entirely by patient premiums.

Wyden argued during his MSNBC appearance that a public option that reaches more Americans than the one in the House bill would have a better chance of ensuring competition for private insurers. And that, in turn, would promote cost control and improve customer benefits. In explaining how limited the current House bill version is, Wyden said, "Something like 2 percent of the people would [be] eligible even to get the public option."

That's not correct. The Congressional Budget Office -- the nonpartisan group whose estimates on the cost and impact of proposed bills are considered definitive -- said otherwise in an Oct. 29, 2009, letter to Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The CBO estimated that by 2019 -- the final year of the office's 10-year forecast -- 30 million people would be insured through plans offered on the exchange. But the CBO predicted that most of those 30 million would choose plans from private insurers. Only 6 million, or one of every five people buying on the exchange, would select the public plan, according to the CBO's estimate. (Anyone who's eligible to purchase insurance on the exchange would be able to choose either the public option or a plan offered by private insurers.)

Now, 6 million people buying the public option amounts to just over 2 percent of the 282 million Americans who are under age 65 (that is, the 282 million Americans who aren't eligible for Medicare, the universal health insurance program for the elderly). But contrary to what Wyden said, it's not that 2 percent of Americans will be eligible for the public option in 2019; it's that 2 percent will choose the public option that year, according to CBO's estimate.

The actual number of people eligible to choose the public option would be the entire pool of 30 million Americans in the exchange -- almost 11 percent of the under-65 population, or five times the proportion that Wyden indicated.

When we spoke to Wyden's office, a spokeswoman immediately acknowledged that the senator had misspoken. In fact, when he returned to a different MSNBC program that night -- Countdown with Keith Olbermann -- he said, correctly, that the public option "has 6 million people in it."

So while we applaud Wyden for correcting himself after the fact, his original comment was incorrect. So we're rating his statement False.

Our Sources

Sen. Ron Wyden, transcript of interview on Morning Meeting With Dylan Ratigan , Nov. 17, 2009, accessed via Lexis-Nexis.

Sen. Ron Wyden, transcript of interview on Countdown With Keith Olbermann , Nov. 17, 2009

Congressional Budget Office, letter to Rep. Charles Rangel on H.R. 3962, Oct. 29, 2009

Associated Press, " After all the fuss, public option would cover few ," Oct. 31, 2009

E-mail interview with Henry Aaron, health policy scholar at the Brookings Institution, Nov. 18, 2009

E-mail interview with Linda J. Blumberg, senior fellow at the Urban Institute Health Policy Center, Nov. 18, 2009

Interview with Jennifer Hoelzer, spokeswoman for Sen. Ron Wyden, Nov. 18, 2009

E-mail interview with Karen Davenport, director of health policy for the Center for American Progress, Nov. 18, 2009

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Louis Jacobson

Wyden mistakenly lowballs number of people eligible for public option

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up