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Senate Opponents Delivering 'Chicken Little' Mistruths Crafted to Sow Fear on Health Reform, says Consumer Watchdog

Group Offers "Truth Squad" Messages to Counter Insurer-Spun Sound Bites

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Opponents of health reform are fear-mongering relentlessly during prolonged Senate debate, said Consumer Watchdog, spinning endlessly the lobbying messages of the insurance industry. While the public focus during the debate has been on opponents' maneuvers to delay a vote, the messages being delivered during that debate have been crafted to stoke fear and anger, particularly in Medicare recipients.

Below is a list of the most deceptive sound bites, and the longer truth of the reform plans.

"The fairy-tale character Chicken Little warned ceaselessly that the sky was falling, and health reform opponents are spinning similar tales to kill current legislation," said Judy Dugan, research director for Consumer Watchdog. "The same conservatives who spent years bashing Medicare are now all but sobbing at the podium as they 'defend' Medicare, by implying wrongly that seniors will lose large portions of their benefits."

The nonprofit, nonpartisan Consumer Watchdog said Senate Republicans are honing a batch of deceptive, poll-driven sound bites to drive the fear of seniors, stressed-out families and worried workers. The biggest beneficiaries will be major for-profit health insurers and allied companies that see even modest reforms of private Medicare, and the so-called public option, as threats to their bottom lines.

Consumer Watchdog noted Aetna's announcement in October to shareholders that it expected improved profits next year after substantial rate hikes force out up to 650,000 individual and small business clients. Senate leader Harry Reid focused on that statement over the weekend to illustrate the profit demands that drive the insurance industry, and its opposition to the current health reform bill.

That profit imperative is Aetna's truth, unlike its caring-for-you marketing messages, said Consumer Watchdog. The Chicken Little sound bites of Senate opponents are like those insurance marketing materials, said Consumer Watchdog -- aimed at an emotional response, not the more complicated reality.

Here are the top Chicken Little messages, along with a truth that, as usual, is more than a sound bite.

** Medicare benefits will be cut, up to 64%!!!

The longer truth: No regular Medicare benefits would be cut, and some would be strengthened. The health reform bills would reduce overpayments of more than $1,000 per beneficiary to private, for-profit Medicare Advantage plans (which sometimes offer extras like gym memberships). The overpayments, gained through relentless insurance industry lobbying in Congress, threaten the health of overall Medicare, and are paid for by people in regular Medicare, who are charged about $90 a year extra on their physician-care "part B" payments -- money that goes directly to Aetna, United Health Group, Kaiser and others that market, and profit from, the Medicare Advantage plans.

Under the reform bill, the overpayments would be reduced, though not eliminated. It would be up to the insurance companies whether to reduce the extra benefits, or trim their own costs, profits and up to $100 million a year in CEO compensation pay to retain the extra benefits.

None of the regular guaranteed benefits of Medicare could be cut, much less by "64%" -- a figure proclaimed out of thin air by Sen. Chuck Grassley on Friday in an obvious attempt to make seniors think their basic benefits are at risk. In fact, the Senate bill strengthens preventive care benefits in traditional Medicare.

See more on Medicare Advantage issues at

** A half-trillion robbed from Medicare for a huge federal entitlement!!! (Related: Hospitals and doctors will refuse to treat Medicare patients!!!)

The longer truth: The money saved from cutting fraud and abuse, reducing the Medicare Advantage overpayment, and reducing the growth of hospital costs would be largely or entirely used to shore up Medicare's financing, at least delaying the program's risk of insolvency. Hospitals and other medical groups have agreed that the cuts would be offset by more revenue when millions more people are insured, and the American Hospital Association has said loudly and clearly that its members would not, ever, turn away Medicare patients.

Having more non-seniors insured -- the "entitlement" part -- offers a major indirect benefit even to Medicare patients, because hospital resources are not drained off to pay for treatment of the uninsured, often in costly emergency rooms.

** Health reform is a job killer!!!

Longer truth: This one is hard to follow -- usually somehow related to rural hospitals laying off staff if any of their federal payments are cut. But it's an utter lie. Economists are unanimous that health reform would create good jobs -- not just doctor and registered nurse jobs, but for medical assistants, technicians, home health aides -- real jobs that pay more than minimum wage and often come with benefits.

** Government would take over control of your health care!!! (Related: Federal bureaucrats will deny and delay your care!!!)

Longer truth: The current bills are about as privatized as a reform could be, with government's role mainly as a provider of subsidies for those who cannot afford private insurance, and guarantor that insurance benefits are worth the paper they're written on. In credible polls, people are happier with (government-run) Medicare than with even employer-provided health insurance, so in many ways it's too bad that the government presence is as small as it is.

See Commonwealth Fund poll at:

As for federal bureaucrats controlling care, government would indeed set minimums on the care that must be provided in most plans, as well as study what is most effective in treating chronic disease. Unfortunately, private insurance companies will still be hunting every loophole, as they already do, to limit care and increase shareholder profits.

** America can't afford this huge entitlement program!!! (Implication: It's just like welfare!!!)

Longer truth: America can't afford not to fix its health care system, which is sucking up an ever-larger share of national economic output, while caring for ever-fewer people. The costs are bankrupting families and businesses alike. Insurance companies can capriciously deny to insure any applicant, and cancel their insurance if policyholders get sick. While the health reform bills in Congress are weaker than they could be -- a failed attempt to appease insurers -- they curb the worst abuses and would insure more than half of the 48 million uninsured Americans.

While no one can guarantee the future, the fiscally conservative Congressional Budget Office finds that the reforms would not increase federal indebtedness, and would slightly decrease it. The reforms would certainly spur new economic activity.

The aim of the sound-bite brigades is to kill health reform, since they offer no alternative that would increase the number of people with health care. They clearly hope to delay action long enough to build generalized fear of loss, and loathing of government.

A similar assault met Franklin D. Roosevelt's finally successful effort to establish the Social Security program. Corporations fought back by putting scary warnings about "new taxes" in employees' pay envelopes and railing against big government. Roosevelt was buoyed, however, by persistent public support for the retirement program for the elderly.

This time around, the opponents' scientifically crafted sound bites are sharper and less bound by truth. They deliberately use words that would make seniors think all of their Medicare benefits are at risk.

"What we have to hope is that Americans are also sharper at seeing through smear and fear," said Dugan, "and willing to respond to those who spread the deceptive sound bites."

Consumer Watchdog is a nonpartisan consumer advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Santa Monica, CA. Find us on the web at:

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog

SOURCE Consumer Watchdog
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