Worst Claims

Obamacare Fear-Mongering Hall of Fame: Death Panels and More

As the exchanges goes online Tuesday, see the most outlandish false claims about the law. By Jamelle Bouie.

Mark Peterson/Redux

In their push to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act, conservative Republicans have cast the health-care law in near-apocalyptic terms. Lawmakers such as Louisiana Rep. John Fleming have called Obamacare “the most dangerous legislation ever passed in Congress.” Likewise, during his extended speech in opposition to the law, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz declared it was “driving up health-care costs,” “killing health benefits,” and “shattering the economy.” Indeed, after nearly four years, there is a treasure trove of hyperbolic, over-the-top soundbites about it.

As Republicans wreak havoc in their effort to repeal the law, it’s worth looking at the most extreme statements they’ve made about the dreaded Affordable Care Act.

The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.”

This, from Sarah Palin, came during the summer of 2009, when Congress was debating the proposal that would become the Affordable Care Act. It’s where we get the term “death panel,” a grossly distorted reference to the Independent Payment Review Board, an organization created to reduce costs in Medicare and the broader health-care system. The important thing to remember, however, is that there’s nothing in the Affordable Care Act that forces doctors to use one procedure over another or that takes away care from the elderly or the infirm.

“A clause hidden in the Obamacare bill, which is now law, gives Obama the right to form a private army.”

We can thank Saturday Night Live alum Victoria Jackson for this claim, which quickly made its way through the fever swamps of the right wing. Here are the facts: the Affordable Care Act creates a “Ready Reserve Corps” that exists to augment the “Commission Corps,” a uniformed group of health professionals who work with the U.S. military on humanitarian missions. It is the furthest possible thing from a “private army.”

“Obamacare is … the largest tax increase in the history of the world.”

This comes from Rush Limbaugh, who is no stranger to ridiculous statements about President Obama or the Affordable Care Act. The health-care law does raise taxes—from an increase in the Medicare payroll tax to a new annual fee on health insurance providers—but those increases pale in comparison with past tax hikes. The largest tax increase in U.S. history was the Revenue Act of 1942, which raised taxes by 5.04 percent of gross domestic product. By contrast, the tax increases in Obamacare amount to .49 percent of total GDP, or a tax hike as large as the one signed by George H.W. Bush in 1990.

“Seventy-five percent of small businesses now say they are going to be forced to either fire workers or cut their hours.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio made this claim in an op-ed for Fox News over the summer, defending his support for defunding the Affordable Care Act and blocking its implementation. As he wrote, “ObamaCare encourages you to hold back on hiring new workers or cut the hours of existing ones so that you don’t reach 50 employees.” The problem, as you’ve guessed by now, is he’s wrong. Politifact offers a detailed explanation, but the short of it is that the survey in question is too vague to draw such a broad conclusion. What’s more, most small businesses have 10 or fewer employees and are exempt from the employer mandate. And the great majority of larger businesses—those with 25 to 49 employees—already offer health insurance. As for businesses with 50 to 199 employees? Ninety-four percent already offer benefits.

Not only did Rubio make up a number, but he’s also warning against a problem that doesn’t exist.

“That’s why we’re here because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens!”

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Michele Bachmann, everyone. The only thing to say about this is it isn’t true in the least. Indeed, the claim is so outlandish that even Obama felt the need to mock it: “Now I have to say that that one was from six months ago. I just want to point out that we still have women. We still have children, and we still have senior citizens.”

That Republicans are willing to go this far to discredit the Affordable Care Act isn’t a surprise. When the Obamacare exchanges open for business on Tuesday, millions of Americans will have access to affordable health care for the first time in their lives. If everything works as expected, the law will become an integral part of the welfare state, at which point Republicans will have to reconcile themselves to a reality where health insurance is a right for most Americans.

You can think of this rhetoric—and the push for shutdown from Tea Party conservatives—as a reluctant recognition that the battle is lost.