Saturday, February 23, 2008

Fact Check: Obama's Attack on Hillary's Health Plan are False

From "Obama mailer on Clinton health care plan lacks context.
An Obama mailer stretches the differences between the candidates on health care. Specifically:

It touts measures included in Obama's plan to help low-income individuals buy insurance but fails to mention that Clinton would provide similar financial assistance.

It says Obama's plan would save the average family $2,500 per year – an estimate provided by experts at the campaign's request – but doesn't say that Clinton estimates hers will save $2,200 per year.

It also neglects to point out that Clinton's plan isn't the only one that would have an enforcement mechanism for those who failed to purchase insurance. Obama's plan, which would require that children be insured, would need one as well, though it would affect fewer persons. The Clinton campaign objected to the mailer on grounds that its image of a middle-class white couple is reminiscent of the "Harry and Louise" TV spots that the health insurance industry used to attack the 1993 Clinton health care plan. We see the resemblance, but fail to see the relevancy.
Barack Obama said at the Jan. 31 debate in Los Angeles that his health care plan has "about 95 percent" in common with Democratic rival Hillary Clinton's. Nevertheless, his campaign sent out a piece of direct mail that lacks a good amount of context and could mislead those who are not familiar with Clinton's plan. The mail piece drew an angry protest from the Clinton campaign, which compared it to the well-known "Harry and Louise" TV spots by the Health Insurance Association of America that attacked the 1993 Clinton health care planThe mailer focuses on the primary difference between the two candidates' proposals: whether they would require everyone to obtain coverage. Clinton's plan would require all Americans to get insurance, though she hasn't said what will happen if they don't. Obama's plan would require insurance for all children but not for adults. Both plans would help consumers with the cost of getting coverage – although you wouldn't know it from reading Obama's mailer.

Affordability for All?

The mailer opens with the claim that "Hillary’s health care plan forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can't afford it." Clinton's plan does require everyone to have health insurance, and there will be some kind of penalty for those who don't comply. The mailer is correct on that point. But the Obama mailer leaves out any information on cost-reduction measures and low-income help that Clinton's plan offers, while it touts such measures found in his plan – some of which very closely mirror Clinton's.

For instance, the mailer says Obama's plan will save the average family $2,500 per year. That estimate comes from several Harvard professors who examined the plan at the Obama campaign's request. But Clinton says the Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs, estimates her plan would do nearly as well, saving about $2,200 per year per family.

Also, the mailer says Obama's proposal "offers health care coverage for all Americans similar to that of members of Congress, and subsidies to help those who cannot afford it." It leaves out the fact that Clinton, too, proposes allowing Americans to "choose from dozens of the same plans available to members of Congress," as her Web site states. Instead of direct federal subsidies, Clinton would rely on tax credits that hold premiums to a set percentage of income:

Clinton Plan: This credit will ensure that securing quality health care is never a crushing burden for any working family. This guarantee will be achieved through a premium affordability tax credit that ensures that health premiums never rise above a certain percentage of family income. The tax credit will be indexed over time, and designed to maintain consumer price consciousness in choosing health plans, even for those who reach the percentage of income limit.

The Clinton plan doesn’t specify what "a certain percentage" will be, and whether health care is perceived as a "crushing burden" will probably depend on the family. Obama's plan is similarly vague, promising "income-related federal subsidies" for those who "need assistance" but not specifying amount or eligibility requirements.

The Obama campaign is trying to shift the focus to some unspecified "punishment" that Clinton's plan would mete out for those who didn't obtain coverage. It's true that a "mandate" implies penalties for noncompliance, and Clinton's campaign has yet to outline what those would be. But Obama's plan, which would mandate coverage for children, would presumably also have some enforcement mechanism, and he doesn't make explicit what that would be, either, at least as his plan is laid out on his Web site.

According to news reports, the Clinton campaign lashed out at the use of the mailer in a conference call with selected reporters, complaining that the mail piece bears a resemblance to the "Harry and Louise" TV spots of 1993 and 1994