Separating Fact From Fiction In Health Care Debate

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The battle over health care is sparking claims on both sides, but many of the assertions being made twist the facts and others are outright false, says the editor of a Web site that tracks the claims.

Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact and the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, tells Melissa Block that one group that opposes an overhaul says the health care bill allows illegal immigrants to get free medicine.

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"We gave that our lowest rating on our Truth-O-Meter: a pants on fire," he says. "To the contrary, there's language [in the bill] that says that undocumented aliens would not be eligible for the credit under this plan."

The claim came from a chain e-mail that included many other assertions, including one that said a "health choices commissioner" would decide health benefits and that individual consumers would have no choices. This claim, too, got a "pants on fire" from PolitiFact.

"This chain e-mail is very persuasive in many ways because it has specific language, page numbers from the bill, but when you look at what it uses to back up a claim like that, it's just not true," Adair says. "There is a health commissioner that would be responsible for running the exchange under the main bills that have been discussed, but it's not like that person would say you couldn't get coverage or you could. That person would just be responsible to administer what the general standards were for the programs."

Bogus claims aren't just coming from those who oppose an overhaul. Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri recently claimed that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the current plan would create a $6 billion surplus over 10 years. Adair's group has rated that as false.

"That really was a little bit of budget trickery there," he says. "He is wrong that the CBO said this. The CBO said that the health care plan would post a deficit of something like $239 billion, something like that.

"What he's doing is including some other numbers to try to erase that and actually make it look like a $6 billion surplus, but that's not what the CBO says."

Adair says that because much of the action in the health care debate has been on the side of the groups that oppose an overhaul, that side is also responsible for much of the misinformation.

"I think much of the dialogue is being set by the critics who are making some very strong claims about this, and when we check them out, we find that many of them are exaggerated or completely false," he says.

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