President Obama has attempted to marginalize critics of his health care reform scheme by accusing them of using “scare tactics.” Sure, “death panel” wasn’t the most objectively phrased term to have appeared this summer. But the president poses as an innocent victim while he has employed genuine scare tactics throughout the entire health care reform debate.
Obama has a list of all the horrible things he claims will happen if his proposed reforms don’t become law immediately. The first among them is that health care spending will destroy the federal budget. In his Shaker Heights, Ohio, town hall meeting on July 23, he said his plan “will, in fact, control the deficit over the long term. And young people should particularly be concerned about that, because if health care inflation keeps going up at the rate that it is, you won't -- when your generation is running things -- won't be able to afford anything else in the federal budget. Medicare and Medicaid will consume all our health care dollars -- or all our federal dollars.” In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says that Democrats’ reforms will increase federal deficits rather than lower them.
This was not the only time that the president used dire warnings to misrepresent the health care problem. In his Portsmouth, New Hampshire, town hall meeting on August 11, he said, “In the wealthiest nation on Earth, 46 million of our fellow citizens have no coverage. They are just vulnerable. If something happens, they go bankrupt, or they don't get the care they need.”
But the claim that 46 million people are uninsured because coverage is too expensive is untrue. The majority of that 46 million are uninsured by choice or due to immigration status (also a choice), not by necessity. By suggesting that nearly 50 million people are victims of the current system and their ranks are growing, the president creates a false sense of urgency. As for the suggestion that the only outcome for the uninsured in the absence ObamaCare is bankruptcy or going without care, it is scaremongering plain and simple. Actually, many of the uninsured get care in emergency rooms and urgent care clinics.
In another scare tactic, Obama has claimed that, without his reform, health insurance costs will become unaffordable for many, if not most, Americans. Thus, in his conference call with the AARP on July 28, he said:
“I’ve already mentioned that health care costs are going up much faster than inflation. So your wages, your income, if you're lucky, right now, maybe they're going up 2 percent a year, maybe 3 percent a year; for a lot of people, they're not going up at all because the economy is in tough shape. But your health care costs are still going up 6 percent a year, 7 percent a year. Some people are getting notices in the mail their premium just went up 20 percent.
On that trajectory, health care costs will probably double again -- your premiums will probably double again over the next 10 years. They may even go up faster than that. The costs of Medicare are going to keep on rising a lot faster than tax revenues coming in, which means that the trust fund -- you've got more money going out than is coming in, which makes that more unstable. And we know that if we do nothing we will probably end up seeing more people uninsured.
“We're already seeing 14,000 people lose their health insurance every day -- 14,000 people. So the costs of doing nothing are trillions of dollars in costs over the next couple of decades -- trillions -- not billions, but trillions of dollars in costs, without anybody getting any better care.”
If 14,000 people lose their health insurance each day, that’s 5.1 million people a year. And yet a Kaiser study found that in this decade the number of uninsured has grown by roughly 1 million a year. What happened to the other 4 million? They found insurance, of course. Obama exaggerates the problem to scare people into believing they will inevitably lose their coverage if his reform doesn’t pass.
The president also scares people with the idea that a special-interest bogey man is out to stop all reform. If these dark forces succeed, millions more will go without coverage or care, he claims. In Portsmouth, for instance, he said:
“But let's face it, now is the hard part -- because the history is clear -- every time we come close to passing health insurance reform, the special interests fight back with everything they've got. They use their influence. They use their political allies to scare and mislead the American people. They start running ads. This is what they always do.
“We can't let them do it again. Not this time. Not now. Because for all the scare tactics out there, what is truly scary -- what is truly risky -- is if we do nothing. If we let this moment pass -- if we keep the system the way it is right now -- we will continue to see 14,000 Americans lose their health insurance every day. Your premiums will continue to skyrocket. They have gone up three times faster than your wages and they will keep on going up.”
The president’s entire sales pitch is based upon a series of scare tactics. He amplifies them by exhibiting at his town hall meetings people who have horror stories involving health insurance, the clear implication being that without immediate reform you, too, could end up like this poor soul. More broadly, Obama falsely portrays health care reform as one of two choices: the Democratic proposal or nothing. If we choose nothing, he says, the result will be financial and physical ruin for millions. If that’s not one giant scare tactic, then nothing is.
Obama was right to complain, in a speech in Minneapolis this Saturday, that “we've heard scare tactics instead of honest debate” about health care. What he did not acknowledge is that his own speeches exemplify precisely that problem.