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

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: "The big employers are already in the market. Their plans won't change, and actually that's one thing that we need to remind everybody. If you have insurance with your employer that you like, if it works for you, if your employer is a state or city government, a large employer, if you're in Medicare, if you have veteran's benefits, your patient protections are already in place. Nothing changes in this new market." — CNN, Thursday.

THE FACTS: McCarthy is correct, Obama said exactly that. It was an empty promise, made repeatedly. Sebelius picks her words more carefully but still offers misleading assurances.

Nothing in the health care law guarantees that people can keep the health insurance they already have. Costs can rise, benefits can change and employers can drop coverage.

Insurance policies that are offered must now meet minimum standards, covering more preventive services, for example, and larger employers that don't offer insurance to workers will face penalties when that provision of the law, delayed by Obama, comes into effect. But that doesn't mean the status quo goes on for those who like what they've got now.

Some larger companies are already curtailing their coverage to avoid taxes that start in 2018 on high-value plans, those worth $10,200 or more for individual coverage and $27,500 for family policies. The AFL-CIO, whose member unions had supported the law, now says it is being implemented in a way that is "highly disruptive" to some union health plans, driving up costs for these plans to a point that workers and companies must abandon them.

Continuing a long-term trend, many companies are shifting more costs to employees through higher premiums, deductibles and copayments.

Sebelius is on firm ground in stating that "your patient protections are already in place" because the law contains a range of new protections against lifetime caps on benefits, overly discriminatory pricing and more. But "nothing changes" for those with good insurance? Not so. The landscape is already shifting.

OBAMA: "Our deficits are now coming down so quickly that by the end of this year, we will have cut them in more than half since I took office." — Sept. 20 speech at Ford plant near Kansas City, Mo.

THE FACTS: Yes, but.

When Obama took office in January 2009, the deficit he inherited was $1.4 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated it will be $642 billion for the budget year ending Monday, down by roughly half since Obama became president.

An estimated $78 billion of that deficit reduction comes from automatic across-the-board spending cuts, called sequestration, that began taking effect in March — over Obama's protests. As well, tax increases early this year have brought in more revenue. The economic recovery also has resulted in higher tax payments.

Deficits, though, don't tell much about the country's total indebtedness because they only represent a one-year comparison of revenues and spending.

While annual deficits are declining, the national debt — the accumulation of deficits going back to the days of George Washington — is still rising. It stood at $10.6 trillion the day Obama took office. It's now $16.7 trillion, according to the Treasury Department's Bureau of the Public Debt.

Thus, the national debt has increased by $6.1 trillion under Obama — the largest increase to date under any president, and a reflection in part of the deep recession early in his first term. The next highest was the $4.9 trillion added to the debt during the eight-year presidency of George W. Bush. Despite shrinking deficits, the debt is still rising because the U.S. government still must borrow 19 cents of every dollar it spends.

OBAMA: "Raising the debt ceiling is not the same as approving more spending, any more than making your monthly payments adds to the total cost of your truck. You don't say, 'Well, I'm not gonna — I'm not gonna pay my bill, my note for my truck because I'm gonna save money.' No, you're not saving money. You already bought the truck, right? ... So raising the debt ceiling, it doesn't cost a dime. It does not add a penny to our deficits." — Speech at Ford plant.

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