A recent Washington Post op-ed by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius suggests a new motto for the Obama Administration: "Home of the Whopper." The Sebelius piece contains no fewer than 10 health care whoppers, including:
Whopper Number 1: Americans are too stupid to buy their own health insurance.
SEBELIUS: Americans are left to worry about whether they'll get laid off and lose their insurance or wake up from surgery with a $10,000 bill because they didn't read the fine print on their policy.
FACT: Most health care policies are fairly straightforward. My own Health Savings Account plan is so simple that even a congressman could understand it. I pay everything up to the deductible, and the insurance company pays everything after the deductible. According to the America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the number of Americans covered by these plans has grown from 0 in 2004 to 8 million today.
Whopper Number 2: Americans can't get coverage for preexisting conditions.
SEBELIUS: The current health-care system gives insurance companies all the power. They get to pick and choose who gets a policy. They can deny coverage because of a preexisting condition.
FACT: That's not true for the 177 million Americans who have group health insurance, where it's illegal to deny coverage to someone who has a preexisting condition. It's true that someone who waits until after they're sick to apply for an individual policy can be denied coverage or charged a higher premium, but once they're approved their coverage can never be dropped or their premium increased due to a change in their health.
Whopper Number 3: Government health care will promote stronger doctor-patient relationships.
SEBELIUS: Imagine a system in which your doctor spends as much time trying to keep you healthy as treating you when you're sick, in which you and your doctor have all the information you need to choose the treatments that work best for you, in which you never have to fill out the same paperwork twice. Health reform is the first step in that direction.
FACT: This ABC news report on how Medicaid-financed dental care works for children demonstrates how government health care programs could work for the rest of us:
Little boy: "They said if you don't stop crying, um, that I couldn't see my mom again."
Little girl: "I was like crying for my mom and I was crying because they were hurting me".
Reporter: "And did anybody stop?"
Little girl, shaking head: "Hmm-mmm. I told them to stop but they wouldn't stop."
Mom: "He (her five-year-old son) comes walking out of that door, his whole shirt was full of sweat, he had blood dripping from his mouth, and all I could see was silver shining through."
Whopper Number 4: Young college grads have a tough time finding health insurance.
SEBELIUS: When my two sons graduated from college, I had mixed feelings. I was incredibly proud of their accomplishments, but I dreaded the fact that they would lose their health insurance when they left school.
FACT: If her sons lived in Kansas, they could have bought the same type of policy I have for $36 per month, less than most people spend on cable television. If they didn't qualify for that plan and didn't get a job that offered coverage, her family still could have afforded the guaranteed-issue insurance plan available to anyone in the state who has no other options.
Whopper Number 5: Americans shouldn't waste their time trying to understand the details of Obama's proposal.
SEBELIUS: [W]e can't let the details distract us from the huge benefits that reform will bring. Nor should we let ourselves be distracted by attacks that try to use the complexity of health reform to freeze Americans in inaction.
FACT: An insurance agent who advised his clients to ignore the fine print in a proposed policy could wind up in jail. Anyone who says "don't worry about the details, this is too complex for you to understand anyway," probably has something to hide.
Whopper Number 6: More government means more choices.
SEBELIUS: By giving Americans choices, health reform will switch the roles. Americans will get peace of mind and insurance companies will start getting nervous.
Whopper Number 7: The Obama plan will help entrepreneurs.
SEBELIUS: Right now, many entrepreneurs are paralyzed by our fractured car insurance system. They know that if they leave their job, they might not be able to get car insurance for their families.
FACT: I misquoted Sebelius by replacing the phrase "health insurance" with "car insurance." As long as someone can pay their premiums, they never have to worry about losing their car insurance just because they change jobs. But the federal government's tax and regulatory policies deny people the same flexibility when it comes to health insurance.
Whopper Number 8: The Obama plan will slow health-care costs without slashing benefits or reducing the quality of care.
SEBELIUS: By acting now, we have the chance to slow health-care costs in a way that doesn't slash benefits or reduce care.
FACT: Previous federal efforts to meddle in health care, including misguided tax policy and flawed Medicare reimbursement schemes, have resulted in skyrocketing insurance premiums. The best way to slow health-care costs is to give more power to consumers, and the Obama plan would do the opposite.
Whopper Number 9: Government health care will deliver incredible results at low prices.
SEBELIUS: Instead, we can make investments in prevention, wellness and health information technology that will allow the health-care system to deliver incredible results at prices we can all afford.
FACT: Because government programs under-pay doctors and hospitals for their services, those health care providers are forced to make up the difference by shifting costs to people who have insurance. According to Milliman, Inc., Medicare and Medicaid under-payments increase the cost of health insurance by $88 billion. Instead of fixing this problem, President Obama has proposed even more Medicare cuts.
Whopper Number 10: There is no alternative solution to the nation's health care problems.
SEBELIUS: We've learned over the past 20 years that "socialized medicine" and "government-run health care" are code words for "don't change anything." With some insurers raising premiums by more than 25 percent and 14,000 people losing their health insurance every day, Americans want to hear something more from their leaders than "wait and see" and "more of the same."
FACT: It is the Obama administration that has blocked change by rejecting simple, mainstream proposals to improve health care, for example by providing financial support to people who can't afford insurance or giving a tax break to individuals who buy their own insurance.
Unfortunately for Americans, the Obama administration has chosen to cloud the health care reform discussion by throwing out new whoppers every day rather than engaging in an honest public debate.
Bryan Riley is an insurance agent and a former candidate for Kansas Insurance Commissioner.