“Government takeover”? The DNC says that’s a myth

DNC-logo-on_white-sq-250“Myth: Obamacare is a government takeover of the health care system.”

—The Democratic National Committee on its “Your Republican Uncle” website, Nov. 25, 2013

 

Overview

The DNC says it’s a myth that the ACA represents a government takeover of the health care system.  The DNC’s case unwittingly undermines itself.

The Facts

We continue our series of ratings for claims from the Democratic National Committee’s “Your Republican Uncle” website.  The DNC says it is a myth that Obamacare is a government takeover of the health care system.  The DNC offers the following support:

Let’s be honest — the Affordable Care Act was born out of ideas originally proposed by Republicans. It relies on private insurers and actually strengthens the employer-based health care system that already exists , while expanding the pool of people who are able to buy insurance. Now that it’s a law passed by President Obama, Republicans want to put insurance companies back in charge.

 

The DNC provides a hotlink source for the claim.  As usual, the DNC uses the White House as its source, apparently relying on this paragraph from the White House website:

One independent group actually called this myth the “lie of the year.” The Affordable Care Act puts people, not health insurance companies or government, in charge of health care. The new law strengthens the existing employer-based health insurance market while making the market fair for consumers by implementing landmark consumer protections. Families and individuals that don’t have access to affordable coverage can receive tax credits to help them purchase coverage in the private health insurance market. There is no government-sponsored, public, or “single payer” plan in the law.

 

The DNC says Obamacare is not a government takeover of health care.  The White House says Obamacare does not lead to a government takeover of health care.

Analyzing the Rhetoric

We’ll look at each claim from the DNC.

“the Affordable Care Act was born out of ideas originally proposed by Republicans”

If Obamacare amounts to a government takeover of health care, it doesn’t matter where the ideas came from.  This claim serves primarily to distract from the issue.  It’s true that Republicans in the 1980s and 1990s advocated some of the ideas present in the ACA, such as an individual mandate and guaranteed insurance eligibility.  But those plans in their entirety involved less government interference in the health care market than what we see from the ACA.

“It relies on private insurers and actually strengthens the employer-based health care system that already exists”

Obamacare relies on private insurers for purchased insurance.  But it increases the number of insured persons by expanding the Medicaid system administered by state governments and largely funded by the federal government.

As for the claim it expands the employer-based health care system, it’s hard to see how the claim is justified.  While the ACA includes an employer mandate, the CBO projects that fewer Americans will receive their coverage through their employers under the health care reform law.

In terms of a government takeover, the supposed reliance on private insurers serves as another distraction.  If the government controls the way private insurers offer insurance then it would count as  a government takeover.

“expanding the pool of people who are able to buy insurance”

Democrats who passed the ACA said they wanted to make insurance more affordable and trim the number of Americans who went without insurance.

A CBO report from February 2014 updates its estimates of insurance changes under the ACA.

CBO feb 2014 effects of ACA on insurance coverage

The CBO expects the number of uninsured to decrease by about 25 million under the ACA.  About 13 million of that number get insurance through Medicaid.  The rest, about 12 million, represent the enlarged pool of people able to afford insurance.

This claim has some truth to it, then, though the expanded pool occurs through government manipulation of the insurance market:  subsidizing coverage and threatening financial penalties on those who do not buy insurance.  It’s possible for the government to take over health care while expanding the affordability of private insurance.

“Republicans want to put insurance companies back in charge”

This line from the DNC implies that insurance companies were once in charge of health care, but are no longer in charge.

What happened to the control insurance companies once held over health care?  Presumably, insurance company control of health care was broken by the ACA.  In other words, the government wrested control away from the insurance companies.  The White House website assures us this isn’t a government takeover, however:

The Affordable Care Act puts people, not health insurance companies or government, in charge of health care.

 

The White House’s claim perhaps deserves its own fact check.  But we’ll simply note that if a company is paying penalties to the government for not making insurance available to its employees and individuals are paying penalties to the government for not purchasing their own insurance then plainly it’s an oversimplification to say that people are in charge and not the government.

The Washington Post Fact Checker confirms the federal government has produced thousands of pages of regulations it will enforce to put the ACA into effect.

“Myth: Obamacare is a government takeover of the health care system.”

Does the ACA amount to a government takeover of the health care system?

We think the question is too ambiguous to answer with a simple yes or no.  What exactly do we mean by “government takeover”?  If we mean seizure of the means of production, then the ACA is not a government takeover.  But if we mean the government will exercise increased control over the health care markets, then the ACA qualifies as a government takeover.

Democrats and Republicans have made use of the ambiguity in selling their messages about the ACA to voters.

Summary

If your Republican uncle is claiming that the ACA greatly expands government control of the health care system, then he has a bit of a point.  It’s no myth.  We recommend Democrats find out exactly what their Republican uncles are talking about before deploying the DNC’s recommended response.

“Myth: Obamacare is a government takeover of the health care system.”

True Statement Moderate charity icon Booby Trap icon Straw Man icon

We think most Republican uncles don’t believe the ACA represents a government seizure of the means of production.  We can charitably assume the DNC means something along those lines when it says the “government takeover” is a myth, but in that case the argument is a straw man version of what most Republican uncles are saying.  We count the straw man fallacy as a rhetorical boobytrap since some Republican uncles may think the ACA is a full-on government seizure of the healthcare system.

“the Affordable Care Act was born out of ideas originally proposed by Republicans”

True Statement Minimal charity icon Missing Context icon Fallacy of Ambiguity icon Red Herring Fallacy icon

It’s true that Republicans advocated some of the ideas found in the ACA.  But the ACA has many features Republicans don’t advocate, and no Republican voted for the ACA.  This claim may lead an audience to overestimate the degree of support Republicans have shown historically for some key features of the health care reform bill.  That’s a fallacy of ambiguity.  In addition, past Republican support for some concepts in the bill serves as to distract from the issue of increased government control of the health care system.

“It relies on private insurers and actually strengthens the employer-based health care system that already exists”

True Statement Moderate Charity icon Missing Context icon Fallacy of Ambiguity icon Red Herring Fallacy icon

The ACA uses government coercion to expand the market for private insurance.  The bill, as show in CBO chart embedded above, decreases employer-provided insurance compared to the baseline CBO projection.  Taken charitably, the DNC could be saying that employer-based insurance is strengthened by the ACA’s requirement that larger employers offer insurance.  But that interpretation leaves the DNC misleading its audience about the effects of the ACA.  Again we have a case where the DNC’s argument ultimately serves to distract from the question of government control over the health care system.

“expanding the pool of people who are able to buy insurance”

True Statement icon Red Herring Fallacy icon

The ACA’s expansion of the pool of people who are able to buy insurance tops out at 13 million according to the latest CBO estimates.  If more people buy their own insurance this does nothing to show a lack of government control of the health care system if the reform law requires people to buy their own insurance or face penalties.  This point from the DNC adds up to yet another distraction.

“Republicans want to put insurance companies back in charge”

We won’t address the truth value of this statement.  Rather, we point out that it implicitly affirms that the ACA serves as the government’s vehicle for taking control of health care from insurance companies and then either keeping it or giving it to somebody else.

This embarrassing gaffe by the DNC does not prove that the ACA represents a government takeover of health care.  But it does show a careless approach by the DNC to its political rhetoric on health care reform.

 

References

The Democrat’s Guide to Talking Politics with Your Republican Uncle.” Your Republican Uncle. Democratic National Committee, 25 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Get the Facts Straight on Health Reform.” The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Butler, Stuart M., Ph.D. “Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans.” The Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Greenberg, Jon. “Is the ACA the GOP Health Care Plan from 1993?PolitiFact PunditFact. Tampa Bay Times, 15 Nov. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Summary Of A 1993 Republican Health Reform Plan.” KHN: Kaiser Health News. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 23 Feb. 2010. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Affordable Care Act.” Medicaid.gov. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Employer Responsibility Under the Affordable Care Act.” KFF.org. Kaiser Family Foundation, 15 July 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

CBO and JCT’s Estimates of the Effects of the Affordable Care Act on the Number of People Obtaining Employment-Based Health Insurance.” CBO.gov. Congressional Budget Office, 23 Mar. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

Insurance Coverage Provisions of the Affordable Care Act — CBO’s February 2014 Baseline.” CBO.gov. Congressional Budget Office, Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.

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