PoliGraph: Bachmann’s health care claim misleading

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Just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that President Barack Obama’s health care law is constitutional, the U.S. House voted this week for the 33rd time to repeal or change it.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, one of the law’s most outspoken critics, took to the chamber floor July 10 to say why she thinks the law is a bad idea.

“The president told us that we would be saving $2,500 a year per household if we passed his health care bill,” Bachmann said. “But the sad reality is that Americans’ health insurance premiums have increased by almost that amount, which means the president was off by a stunning $5,000 per household.”

“Americans are pulling their pockets inside out saying, ‘Mr. President! I don’t have the money to pay $5,000 more per year on my health insurance policy,'” Bachmann went on.

Bachmann’s correct that Obama pledged to reduce premiums by $2,500. But the bulk of her claim is misleading.

The Evidence

When President Barack Obama was on the campaign trail in 2008 and subsequently trying to sell the health care overhaul in 2009, he said his plan would save households up to $2,500 on their premiums annually. It’s a claim that independent fact-checking organization FactCheck.org has questioned repeatedly. And PolitiFact.com has rated Obama’s promise to lower health insurance premiums by $2,500 as ‘Stalled’.

To support the second part of Bachmann’s claim, her staff points to a recent report compiled by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation. According to that report, premiums for private family coverage increased by an average of $1,700 between 2009 and 2011, the first two years of Obama’s presidency.

That’s not the nearly $2,500 increase Bachmann mentioned in her speech because she was including 2008 as part of Obama’s presidency, according to her spokesman. Obama wasn’t sworn into office until 2009, so Bachmann’s claim that premiums have increased by nearly $2,500 is inflated.

Further, Bachmann makes it seem as if families are paying the entire amount of that premium increase, but it is employers that cover the bulk of the cost. According to the same report, the increased cost to patients between 2010 and 2011 was only $130, and employers covered the rest.

Bachmann’s underlying point that the new health care law is responsible for higher premiums is unfair, say health policy experts.

In fact, health care premiums have been on the rise for years. According to the Kaiser report, family coverage premiums have increased by more than $9,000 since 1999, so the trend isn’t unique to Obama’s presidency.

Michael Sparer, chair of the department of health policy and management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health says care is becoming more expensive, which drives up premiums.

“The underlying cost drivers (price and volume, especially of high tech services) continue to be the key,” Sparer wrote in an e-mail.

Jonathan Oberlander, who teaches health policy and management at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said there’s evidence that the rate of health spending is actually slowing down. Premiums are still growing, but at a slower pace, Oberlander said.

And while some insurers may raise rates in anticipation of more regulation ahead, Sparer wrote, the bulk of the health care law won’t kick in until 2014, so it’s too soon to say whether it will have a dramatic impact on premiums one way or another.

Oberlander and Bradley Herring, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agreed.

“It’s too early for the ACA to have any effect on health care spending,” Herring said.

The Verdict

Bachmann’s correct that Obama frequently promised to lower premiums by $2,500, a claim that other fact-checkers have questioned in the past. And she relies on a reputable report to underscore that premiums have been on the rise.

But she inflates the premium increase during Obama’s time in office by several hundred dollars, and fails to point out that much of those additional costs will be borne by the employer, not employees.

Further, she implies that premiums are increasing because of the new health care law. But it is high-tech, increasingly complex medical procedures that are making care more expensive.

Bachmann’s claim is misleading at best.


YouTube, Bachmann: Obamacare is Full of Broken Promises, July 10, 2012

The New York Times, Health Plan From Obama Spurs Debate, by Kevin Sack, July 23, 2008

The Irregular Times, Text and Audio of Barack Obama Speech in Columbus, Ohio, Feb. 27, 2008

PolitiFact.com, RNC ad blames Obama for $1,300 spike in family health care premiums, by Louis Jacobson, March 19th, 2012

The Kaiser Family Foundation, Employer Health Benefits: 2011, Annual Survey, Sept. 2011

Interview, Bradley Herring, associate professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, July 11, 2012

E-mail exchange, Michael Sparer, Department Chair, Health Policy & Management Professor and Department Chair of Health Policy and Management, Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, July 11, 2012

E-mail exchange, Dan Kotman, spokesman, Rep. Michele Bachmann, July 11, 2012

E-mail exchange, Jonathan Oberlander, professor of health policy and management, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, July 12, 2012

  • Brian Bergs

    This point is misleading.

    “Further, Bachmann makes it seem as if families are paying the entire amount of that premium increase, but it is employers that cover the bulk of the cost. According to the same report, the increased cost to patients between 2010 and 2011 was only $130, and employers covered the rest. ”

    As a longtime manager I know that management often has to face increases in healthcare by not giving a raise or reducing employees wages. So any additonal amount that an employer pays in healthcare premiums comes out of any increase or is even funded by pay decreases. Families in fact do pay for the increases by deferred raises or actual pay decreases. The money for healthcare cost increases must come from some source. The statement above makes it seem like those increases are absorbed by some unknown source.

  • vortex100

    Let’s put it simply: Michele Bachmann lied, big time. She knew all the facts, but lied about them anyway. However, this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows this woman. It is the primary reasons voters rejected her bid for the presidency and why she will likely lose her seat in November. Michele Bachmann is untrustworthy.