Is That So? Health Care Myth-Busting

As the Senate continues to debate its health overhaul bill, we continue to check the accuracy of that debate. This time, we focus on assertions about abortion and the life of the Medicare program.

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NPR's Julie Rovner has been fact checking elements of the health care debate. Here she is with another installment of our series, Is That So?

JULIE ROVNER: Although the bill is about health care overall, much of the debate has centered on Medicare, specifically the bill's plan to cut Medicare spending. Here's Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss.

Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): They are saying that even though they are cutting Medicare by a total of $450 billion-plus over a 10-year period, the solvency of Medicare is going to be extended. Now, they expect the American people to believe that somehow.

ROVNER: Well, actually, Senator Chambliss, that's exactly what cutting that much money out of Medicare would do. The less Medicare spent, the longer its money lasts. Now, whether cutting money from Medicare would hurt its providers or patients is another question. Democrats say the cuts wouldn't hurt. They're trimming waste and making the program more efficient. And big senior groups, including the AARP, agree.

Republicans, ironically, who have proposed large cuts to Medicare in the past, say they don't want to cut Medicare in this bill, but they also don't want to raise taxes. They'll have to do one or the other to shore up the finances of the program everyone agrees is financially unable to withstand the retirement of 78 million baby boomers.

Another hot issue in the bill is abortion, specifically what happens if abortion is banned in insurance plans that receive federal subsidies. At issue is whether women will be able to use their own money to buy separate policies, known as riders, to cover the procedure. Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow says right now in the five states that ban abortion coverage, but do allow insurance riders...

Senator DEBBIE STABENOW (Democrat, Michigan): Idaho, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Missouri, North Dakota - there is no evidence that there are any riders available in the individual market. So, even though technically colleagues will say, well, you could buy additional coverage, it's not offered.

ROVNER: So, is that so? Well, anti-abortion groups have challenged Stabenow's assertion. As evidence, they point to a quote from the head of none other than Planned Parenthood of St. Louis. Paula Gianino was quoted in a November 9th newspaper article as saying up to 10 percent of the abortions the organization performs were covered by private insurance, despite the state's ban. She said at the time it was because employers had purchased riders for that coverage.

But when I called Planned Parenthood this week, they said they'd done some more investigation and it turns out that's not the case. Rather, that private coverage more likely came from plans that are exempt from the state law. That's because they're governed by federal insurance law instead. So, as far as Planned Parenthood can tell, there are no abortion coverage riders available for purchase in Missouri. So, it seems what Senator Stabenow said on the floor is so after all.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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