AP fact-checks Obama speech; Update: Reason does better

Yesterday, Barack Obama told the nation that he was tired of dishonest debate and “scare tactics,” but how honest was Obama himself in last night’s speech?  The Associated Press fact-checks Obama and finds him … wanting.  For a man eager to paint his opposition as liars, Obama told a couple of whoppers himself in front of the joint session of Congress:

OBAMA: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits either now or in the future. Period.”

THE FACTS: Though there’s no final plan yet, the White House and congressional Democrats already have shown they’re ready to skirt the no-new-deficits pledge.

House Democrats offered a bill that the Congressional Budget Office said would add $220 billion to the deficit over 10 years. But Democrats and Obama administration officials claimed the bill actually was deficit-neutral. They said they simply didn’t have to count $245 billion of it — the cost of adjusting Medicare reimbursement rates so physicians don’t face big annual pay cuts. …

CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf had this to say in July: “We do not see the sort of fundamental changes that would be necessary to reduce the trajectory of federal health spending by a significant amount.”

In fact, none of the proposals that have come from Congress thus far have been scored deficit neutral by any credible analytical group.  Obama tried arguing again last night that preventive medicine would save the system money, and therefore would render the system deficit neutral or even cost-effective in the long run.  Obama has yet to explain the scope of the “long run” argument, and in any event, the AP notes that the CBO has already blown the whistle on this argument, too:

THE FACTS: Studies have shown that much preventive care — particularly tests like the ones Obama mentions — actually costs money instead of saving it. That’s because detecting acute diseases like breast cancer in their early stages involves testing many people who would never end up developing the disease. The costs of a large number of tests, even if they’re relatively cheap, will outweigh the costs of caring for the minority of people who would have ended up getting sick without the testing.

The Congressional Budget Office wrote in August: “The evidence suggests that for most preventive services, expanded utilization leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall.”

I wrote a column regarding this finding a month ago today.  This has been known for several weeks, explained thoroughly by the CBO in its letter, based on well-known, peer-reviewed studies.  Cost savings from a massive application of preventive medicine is a myth — or in Obama’s parlance, a lie.  Yet Obama insists on telling it over and over again to get people to believe that he can save money by spending more of it.

The AP misses a couple of whoppers, too.  For instance, while they scold Obama for reversing himself on individual mandates, they let this pass without challenge in their article:

“To force people to get health insurance, you’ve got to have a very harsh penalty,” he said in a February 2008 debate.

Now, he says, “individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance — just as most states require you to carry auto insurance.”

This analogy is false for a few reasons.  States only require people to carry auto insurance if they drive on public roads.  It is a prerequisite of accessing a state-run system, not a mandate disconnected from any government-provided service.  Also, the mandate for auto insurance in most states is for liability insurance — insurance that pays for the damage done to other people, not to one’s self.  It’s to make sure that people who suffer damages from auto accidents not their fault can recover compensation for them.

They really miss the boat on illegal immigration, though:

OBAMA: “The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” One congressman, South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson, shouted “You lie!” from his seat in the House chamber when Obama made this assertion. Wilson later apologized.

THE FACTS: The facts back up Obama. The House version of the health care bill explicitly prohibits spending any federal money to help illegal immigrants get health care coverage. Illegal immigrants could buy private health insurance, as many do now, but wouldn’t get tax subsidies to help them. Still, Republicans say there are not sufficient citizenship verification requirements to ensure illegal immigrants are excluded from benefits they are not due.

Actually, the facts do not back up Obama, as the Congressional Research Service noted in its analysis of HR3200.  The CRS is not run by Republicans, but is the nonpartisan research office that reports to Congress.  Illegal aliens in the US who meet the “substantial presence” test would be required to participate in the health-care “exchanges” and would have access therefore to the subsidies and the public option, if it exists in the final form of the bill (page 4):

Under H.R. 3200, all legal permanent residents (LPRs),23 nonimmigrants, and unauthorized aliens who meet the substantial presence test (defined above) would be required to obtain health insurance. Noncitizens meeting the definition of nonresident aliens (e.g., temporary visitors, temporary workers in the United States for less than 183 days in the year) would not be required to obtain health insurance. Notably, the IRC does not contain special rules for individuals who are in the United States without authorization (i.e., illegal or unauthorized aliens). Instead, the IRC treats these individuals in the same manner as other foreign nationals—an unauthorized individual who has been in the United States long enough to qualify under the substantial presence test is classified as a resident alien; otherwise, the individual is classified as a nonresident alien. Thus, it would appear that unauthorized aliens who meet the substantial presence test would be required under H.R. 3200 to have health insurance.

Since the CRS analysis has been public for almost two weeks, the AP reporters should have familiarized themselves with it. The bill offered by the House, which Obama seems to have re-embraced last night, would require illegal aliens in the country for more than six months to obtain health insurance through the exchanges, and make them eligible for the public option. Furthermore, when Republicans attempted to close that loophole with an amendment, Democrats shot it down.

If Obama really wants to make a reputation for himself as a mythbuster, he should start with himself.

Update: I don’t think the AP did a bad job here, but Reason’s Matt Welch does much better — and focuses on the man doing the proposing and the disposing:

It is telling that so many people who claim to be speaking on the side of Truth, Justice, and the American Way of Journalism have consistently focused their outrage-o-meters at individual townhall attendees, political broadcast entertainers, and the lesser lights of a lame (if resurgent-by-default) opposition party, while letting walk nearly fact-check-free the non-irrelevant occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. If calling out lies and misrepresentations about a significant policy proposal is such pressing journalistic business—and it should be!—you’d think the watchdogs might start with the guy doing the proposing.

The lies last night began in Obama’s opening paragraph. “When I spoke here last winter,” he began, “credit was frozen. And our financial system was on the verge of collapse.” In fact, Obama spoke on Feb. 24, at least six weeks after credit markets began to thaw, and one week after he proclaimed that the passage of his $787 billion stimulus marked “the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans.” Obama’s speech that day wasn’t about staving off a collapse, it was about cleaning up the mess and tackling long-ignored issues. Such as health care.

It’s never encouraging when a politician who desperately needs to convince skeptical Americans of his fiscal sobriety starts off by slurring his words. As you might then infer, Obama was just warming up. “Insurance companies,” the president announced, “will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies,” in part because such prevention “saves money.” Looks like someone forgot to tell the Congressional Budget Office, or other non-White House sources that have analyzed the cost-benefit of prevention.

Again and again last night, the president’s numbers didn’t add up. “There may be those—particularly the young and healthy—who still want to take the risk and go without coverage,” he warned, in a passage defending compulsory insurance. “The problem is, such irresponsible behavior costs all the rest of us money. If there are affordable options and people still don’t sign up for health insurance, it means we pay for those people’s expensive emergency room visits.” No, it means that, on balance, the healthy young don’t pay for the unhealthy old. The whole point of forcing vigorous youth to buy insurance is using their cash and good actuarials to bring down the costs of covering the less fortunate.

Be sure to read it all.