Fact check: Slippery claims on health law, budget from Republicans and Democrats

By Calvin Woodward

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Sept. 29 2013 10:04 a.m. MDT

In this Sept, 20, 2013 file photo, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., right, joined by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Va., speaks to reporters about President Obama's debt reduction plan and other issues, on Capitol Hill in Washington. President Barack Obama is the insurance industry's most powerful pitchman these days as he drums up interest in the health insurance markets opening for business Tuesday. Whatever the merits of his product, there are reasons for the buyer to beware of his rhetoric.

J. Scott Applewhite, File, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is the insurance industry's most powerful pitchman these days as he drums up interest in the health insurance markets opening for business Tuesday. Whatever the merits of his product, there are reasons for the buyer to beware of his rhetoric.

The president is being a bit slippery on the costs of coverage, in particular.

His opponents are taking their own liberties as they talk up the ills of what they deride as "Obamacare" and defend their approach to the budget impasse that threatens to close parts of the government come Tuesday.

On these points, caveat emptor:

OBAMA: "Knowing you can offer your family the security of health care, that's priceless. Now, you can do it for the cost of your cable bill, probably less than your cellphone bill. Think about that, good health insurance for the price of your cellphone bill or less." — Speech in Largo, Md., on Thursday.

THE FACTS: The family coverage you can get for the cost of a monthly cable or cellphone bill is going to expose you to a hefty share of your medical expenses. Looked at in terms of digital communications, it's more like dial-up Internet than 4G.

The cell-phone analogy has become the talking point of the week for administration officials pitching people on the health care markets opening for business Tuesday. Obama said earlier that of every 10 Americans who are uninsured, "six out of those 10 are going to be able to get covered for less than $100 a month, less than your cellphone bills."

He is referring to the cheapest of four major options offered by the new markets, the "bronze" plan. But, just like with auto insurance, premiums aren't the only potential expense for a consumer. Those who choose bronze will have to pay 40 percent of their medical bills out of pocket through deductibles and copayments. A family's share of medical costs could go as high as $12,700 a year, or $6,350 for individuals, on top of those cell-phone-like premiums.

Plans that cost more in premiums have the same caps on annual out-of-pocket expenses, but they cover more of the bills along the way. The platinum plan, which is the best, pays 90 percent of medical bills, for example.

OBAMA: "Premiums are going to be different in different parts of the country depending on how much coverage you buy, but 95 percent of uninsured Americans will see their premiums cost less than was expected." — Largo, Md., speech.

THE FACTS: Less than who expected? Obama is referring to an administration analysis that finds premiums are coming in 16 percent lower than had been estimated by experts at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Independent analysts find similar results. But it's a stretch to suggest that numbers crunched by CBO's experts would reflect the expectations of regular consumers.

The new insurance markets are for people who don't have access to coverage on the job. Many will have been uninsured, and they may be surprised when confronted with potentially significant out-of-pocket costs in addition to their monthly premiums. People in the other big group of customers now buy their own individual policies. Current individual coverage is notoriously skimpy, and "Obamacare" plans will provide broader medical benefits and more robust financial protections if you get sick. Although many consumers will qualify for tax credits to offset their premiums, they are likely to pay more than now because they're getting a better product.

REP. KEVIN McCARTHY, R-Calif.: "When we started this health care debate, the president led with a very big promise to the American people: If you like the health care that you have, that you currently have, you can keep it." — At a Sept. 20 House Republican rally after passage of the bill that would finance the government on condition the health care law is starved of money.

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