Political Lie of the Year: “Government Takeover of Health Care”

PolitiFact's Lie of the Year 2010.

PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: ‘A government takeover of health care’

By selecting “government takeover’ as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy.

The phrase is simply not true.

Said Jonathan Oberlander, a professor of health policy at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:  “The label ‘government takeover” has no basis in reality, but instead reflects a political dynamic where conservatives label any increase in government authority in health care as a ‘takeover.’ “

On the one hand, give the opponents of the bill credit as the phrase “government takeover” has a lot of political cache.  On the other hand, it would be nice if debates could be predicated on facts rather than focus-group tests slogans.

I found this phrase problematic during the entire debate because regardless of what one thought of the proposal, the government was never going to be taking over the health care apparatus (or even the health insurance apparatus) within the United States.  Indeed, the policy takes the existing system, one of privately provided health insurance, and further institutionalizes it by requiring everyone to own such insurance unless one is on Medicare or Medicaid.  The PolitiFact piece has a bullet list that one can read along these lines.

Yes, I understand that this policy increases the government role in the regulation of health care.  That does not, however, constitute a “takeover.”  As the PolitiFact piece notes:

Republicans who maintain the Democratic plan is a government takeover say that characterization is justified because the plan increases federal regulation and will require Americans to buy health insurance.

But while those provisions are real, the majority of Americans will continue to get coverage from private insurers. And it will bring new business for the insurance industry: People who don”t currently have coverage will get it, for the most part, from private insurance companies.

Consider some analogies about strict government regulation. The Federal Aviation Administration imposes detailed rules on airlines. State laws require drivers to have car insurance. Regulators tell electric utilities what they can charge. Yet that heavy regulation is not described as a government takeover.

Further, it should be noted that there is already a substantial amount of regulation of health care and health insurance.

I know that many thing that the bill is a grand ruse that the Democrats know will fail and lead to a true “takeover” of health care, but hardly constitutes much of an actual argument, but is rather fanciful thinking used to justify the deployment of an untruth.

The grand irony of this lie is that it was further compounded, in a tangential way at least, by Republican arguments that the Democrats were trying to both “takeover” healthcare and, by the way, they are trying to damage Medicare! (see here and here, for example).

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. tom p says:

    Now you done it, Steve….

  2. Pete says:

    Steven, the slogan may be convenient to clarify, but once the cumbersome federal government begins to inject its regulations and laws into a major component of the economy, is it unreasonable to assume that the feds will eventually take over the effort through “future fixes” of their inefficient administration?

  3. mantis says:

    So, Pete, your contention is that it’s not lying to say a program is a government takeover of an industry when it isn’t if what you really mean is that one day the government could decide to take over that industry, maybe?

    And you actually think this is a legitimate argument?

  4. Bob in Zion says:

    Let’s look at it again:

    Government requires you to buy it or pay a fine (or tax, depending on the court they are arguing in that day)

    Government determines was acceptable for a level of coverage you can buy

    Government tells the insurance companies what they are required to sell you.

    Government tells them who they must cover, what they can and can’t exclude

    So maybe a better term would have been “de-facto government take over” of the health care system. They are running it, just not directly running the companies selling it.

  5. floyd says:

    PolitiFact… Misnomer of the year?

  6. Tano says:

    “is it unreasonable to assume that the feds will eventually take over the effort”

    Yes, actually – I think it is unreasonable to assume that. Could you give us any examples in which government regulation of an industry led to a government take over of that industry?

    And all that is rather besides the point anyway. No one is criticizing anyone for arguing that Obamacare might be a step toward eventual government control. The criticism is directed against the claim that Obamacare IS a government takeover.

  7. Trumwill says:

    I find the “it’s socialized medicine” and “government takeover of health care” to be pretty illuminating phrases. They tell me that the person speaking is ill-informed, has their hyperbole lever stuck in high gear, or is lying.

    (I say this as someone that opposed PPACA.)

  8. JKB says:

    Correct, it is not a government takeover of healthcare. The law simply dictates the terms, conditions and manner in which health care insurance can be offered or purchased, the manner, quality and reimbursement for health care services and authorizes the government agencies to dictate, encourage and mandate pricing. The health care insurers and providers get to keep their name on the door, continue to pay as tax any funds received in excess of the government approved amount and choose which color the examination gowns will be. See no takeover, just regulation. Yeah, Yeah, that’s the ticket. Regulation.

    Just like affirmative action goals that you are punished for not achieving are quotas.

    So regulation so extensive as to mandate all significant manner of delivering a good or service is a takeover.

    Semantics – little blood sucking bites used to distract when been screwed.

  9. Wayne says:

    TSA and post office. Yes there are a few private firms that do what the TSA does but because of Government regulations and restrictions, the Government does the vast majority. Government regulations prevent private industry from doing many of the post offices functions. Cargo is about the only exception.

    Yes pushing heavy regulations that will push the majority of the business toward the government programs is a government takeover. Government controlling health insurance would for the most part result in them controlling healthcare. “Most” people healthcare is determine by what their insurance company is willing to pay.

    Let’s take Medicaid and Medicare as examples. Through Government regulations the government says what they will cover and what they will not. Most who rely solely on those programs can only get healthcare that the government says they can.

    Even if a insurance company were ran by a private firm, the government dictating to them what they can and cannot cover or how much they could charge in premiums would put the government in charge.

    Yes regulating one aspect of an industry doesn’t put the government in charge. Regulating the core aspects of an industry does.

  10. Wayne says:

    Car insurance is only required for liability in case you hit someone. The government doesn’t require you to carry Full coverage. The requirement is to insure you are able to pay for harm you do to others not for harm you do to yourself.

  11. TSA actually is a government take-over.

    The USPS has always been government owned.

    Everyone does realize that healthcare was already a regulated industry, yes?

  12. Wayne says:

    JKB
    But if you disagree with the enlighten ones you are misinform, stupid, ignorant and a racist. (Sarcasm off)

  13. Wayne says:

    Mail delivery has not always been done by the Government.

  14. @Wayne: You do realize that Department of the Post Office was first established as part of George Washington’s cabinet in 1792? It is fair to say that government involvement in the post office has been central from pretty much the beginning.

  15. narciso says:
  16. Bob in Zion says:

    “is it unreasonable to assume that the feds will eventually take over the effort”

    Yes, actually – I think it is unreasonable to assume that. Could you give us any examples in which government regulation of an industry led to a government take over of that industry?

    And all that is rather besides the point anyway. No one is criticizing anyone for arguing that Obamacare might be a step toward eventual government control. The criticism is directed against the claim that Obamacare IS a government takeover.

    The idea behind the law was never for the government to “take over” health care by taking over the insurance companies. The idea was that by making the obstacles to being a profitable insurance company so steep that companies would abandon the effort and leave it to the government.

    Over time the only “insurance” left will be Medicare and Medicaid, then putting government directly in control instead of acting as puppet master and claiming the puppet is the one in charge.

  17. An Interested Party says:

    Politics is obviously an arena where facts do not matter at all to some people…no matter how often the truth is presented that the government hasn’t taken over health care, certain partisans will never believe the truth, and will simply shout their talking points and misinformation even louder…

  18. Tano says:

    “Mail delivery has not always been done by the Government.”

    Mail delivery is not now done by the government. It used to be.

  19. Tano says:

    “The idea was that by making the obstacles to being a profitable insurance company so steep that companies would abandon the effort and leave it to the government.”

    “The idea”???? Whose idea? Far right propagandists, perhaps, but no one else.

  20. Dave Schuler says:

    I can’t believe we’re still arguing over this. The ship has sailed. Private spending accounts for about a third of total national healthcare spending. The remaining sources are all government: Medicare, the federal and state components of Medicaid, CHIP, the VA, and so on

    The argument we should be having is not whether we should have socialized medicine or not but for whose benefit our system of socialized medicine should be administered. Currently, insurance companies and healthcare providers (hospitals, physicians, etc.) are the overwhelming beneficiaries of the system.

  21. Tano says:

    “But if you disagree with the enlighten ones you are misinform, stupid, ignorant and a racist”

    The third from last word should be “or”, not “and”. You must be one or more of these things, not necessarily all four.
    🙂

  22. Tano says:

    “Currently, insurance companies and healthcare providers (hospitals, physicians, etc.) are the overwhelming beneficiaries of the system.”

    What utter nonsense. The obvious biggest beneficiaries are the overwhelming majority of people who have, relatively speaking, excellent health care, usually from their employers, with nary a care as to how it is being paid for.

  23. Speaking as a small businessman, I think you are underestimating the real impact of this legislation. Many, if not most, small businesses would be forced from the private insurance plans they have to day on to the government directed insurance plans. And before you accuse me of making this up or of hyperbole, allow me to note that my company’s health insurance plan has already lost its grandfathered status due to regulations issued in September that were made effective retroactively to February, when our plan renewal date was in June. Why does this matter? Well, since we don’t have the werewithal to ask for a waiver that more connected big businesses and unions get, it seems fair to assume that we can expect yet another massive increase in premiums that is going to force us to relinquish our private insurance plans for our employees. After three straight years of premium increases averaging about 6%, last year’s premium increase was 27%. Now why do you think that would be? And anybody want to guess what the next premium increase may be?

    FWIW, I think this was very well known and planned from inception as a precursor for forcing a single payer system as the only solution to the “unforseen” problems that will arise as this plan gets implemented. But, you know, I’m just a right wing nut who questions the statist solutions increasingly imposed upon us, so pay no attention to me.

  24. steve says:

    “The argument we should be having is not whether we should have socialized medicine or not but for whose benefit our system of socialized medicine should be administered.’

    You use the term too loosely. If we had true socialized medicine, we might be better able to control costs. I have seen real socialized medicine in the UK. What we have is much different. I work with Canadian surgeons. What we have is much different. Government does not set my hours or tell me what meds I can use. It does not determine what procedures I can do.

    Steve

  25. Bob in Zion says:

    “The idea was that by making the obstacles to being a profitable insurance company so steep that companies would abandon the effort and leave it to the government.”

    “The idea”???? Whose idea? Far right propagandists, perhaps, but no one else.

    Actually, Maxine Waters, Nancy Pelosi and many far left politicians brought out those ideas as ways to come up with a “palatable” bill that would, in the long run, lead to government running the system.

    It’s really not a novel concept in our government.

  26. Kylopod says:

    One thought that has occurred to me is that a lot of the Republican rhetoric about the bill would sound virtually the same if Obama had actually implemented single-payer. I wouldn’t be shocked to see a poll showing that many Americans believe the bill creates something like Britain’s NHS.

  27. In other news, the EPA has declared carbon dioxide a pollutant and will use this to regulate all energy production. But the government isn’t taking over energy production either.

  28. John425 says:

    Does Mr Taylor understand the difference between de Facto and de Jure?

  29. Drew says:

    “The obvious biggest beneficiaries are the overwhelming majority of people who have, relatively speaking, excellent health care, usually from their employers, with nary a care as to how it is being paid for.”

    Wow. “Nary a care.”

    Any questions?

  30. DavidL says:

    Compare and contrast. Calling Obama Care a government take over of healthcare is debatable. Arguement can be made on either side.

    Whereas the idea that Obama Care would, bend the cost curve down, let you keep your current plan or doctor, was not a tax,and would not fund abortion, were all outright lies.

  31. Wayne says:

    @Steven
    Government as it pertains to U.S. may have been involved since close to the beginning of the U.S. but were not the only ones involved.
    Also “The first postal service in America arose in February of 1692,”

    @Tano
    “United States Postal Service (USPS) is an independent agency of the “United States government””

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independent_agencies_of_the_United_States_government

    Which mean it is still a government agency. It also has been given “a statutory monopoly on access to letter boxes” by the U.S. government.

  32. anjin-san says:

    > Government as it pertains to U.S. may have been involved since close to the beginning of the U.S. but were not the only ones involved.

    See, Washington was a socialistic, communistic, Obamunistic, guy who seized more power for the government at the expense of the free citizens. It’s about time we set the record straight on that dude.

  33. anjin-san says:

    > Car insurance is only required for liability in case you hit someone. The government doesn’t require you to carry Full coverage. The requirement is to insure you are able to pay for harm you do to others not for harm you do to yourself.

    If you choose not to have health insurance and you suffer a serious accident or illness and run up about 200K in ER/hospital costs that the county ends up eating, your neighbors will pay the costs associated with your irresponsibility. Sounds to me like you are doing them harm.

  34. superdestroyer says:

    The biggest lie of the year is the media referring to the companies as insurance companies. If there is no risk management, there is no insurance. It is just a Ponzi Scheme where the healthy pay in and the money is used to fund the sickest first and the young, healthy American hope that is something around when they get older.

    It is just pre-paid healthcare where lots of people get to avoid the prepaying and lots more get screwed.

  35. wr says:

    It’s not “the media” referring to the insurance companies as insurance companies. It’s the insurance companies referring to the insurance companies as insurance companies. I realize you’re supposed to blame the lamestreamers for your victimization at all times, but really, this is just dumb.

  36. superdestroyer says:

    WT,

    President Obama keeps referring to them as insurance and keeps referring to people’s ability to purchase insurance. Yet, no one in the media or any of the so-called liberal media watch dogs every point out that there is nothing about the plan that actually involves insurance.

    What most people on the left now bleieve is that insurance just means that someone else pays the bills. And that the Obama plan means that others will pay the bills for the core Democratic groups.

  37. An Interested Party says:

    Is it superdestroyer or superwhiner? As wr noted, if insurance companies aren’t what they are called, why do they refer to themselves as insurance companies? As for someone else paying the bills, here’s a newsflash: that applies to a whole lot of people, including Tea Party types screaming about the government keeping its dirty hands of their Medicare…

  38. superdestroyer says:

    Currently there is some form of insurance involved such as pre-existing conditions or the abilty to cancel a policy or charge more due to previous use. Howeve, if there is no denial of policies, no chagning based upon health risk, and no ability to cancel a policy, then the product they are selling is not insurance.

    I wonder if liberal can ever make a comment with out the unneeded personal insult or blaming everything on the bogeyman of the moment.

    Medicare is not an insurance program but is a program to tansfer wealth from the young to the old. The question is why take a program like Medicare that is unsustainable in the long term and make that they national policy.

  39. An Interested Party says:

    “I wonder if liberal can ever make a comment with out the unneeded personal insult or blaming everything on the bogeyman of the moment.”

    Pots and kettles, pots and kettles…

    I wonder if a conservative can ever make a comment without the unneeded insult of “the left” or blaming everything on goverment…

  40. superdestroyer says:

    I.P.

    Before you hold the government blameless, I suggest you go to the library and look up the Code of Federal Regulations. There are 1000’s of pages of regulations. The most important player in health care is the Center for Medicare/Medicaid Serives. They set the reimbursement rate for each procedure or diagnosis and they are the price setter than all of the insurance companies follow. CMS had make or break a speical, a manufacturer and drug companies.

    ObamaCare makes CMS even more powerful and will be the instrument that the government takes over most of medicine. What will stay outside of government control is parts of opthamology, dermatology, cosmetic surgery. I also guess that the rich will not be held back as much the middle class.

    Under Obamacare, the only care that will be available is what CMS sets the reinbursement rate high enough to justify to do.

  41. The insurance companies under Obamacare are the new zamindars.