President Obama's health care initiative is getting toxic on the campaign trail.
With the country sharply divided over the sweeping new insurance law, Republicans and their allies are taking to the airwaves to attack it as elections near, often resorting to exaggeration and omissions to make their points. Democrats generally shy away from even talking about the subject, unless it's to distance themselves from the initiative.
Meanwhile, Obama allies try to draw attention to the most immediate provisions while ignoring the biggest — and most contentious — parts of the expanded health care law that are still four years away from taking effect.
A look at some of the claims made in ads airing in key contests:
• An ad by Crossroads GPS, a group founded by Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, took aim at Democrat Joe Sestak in Pennsylvania's contest for the Senate. It ran similar ads against Sen. Barbara Boxer in California and Democrat Jack Conway, who is seeking a Senate seat from Kentucky.
The claim: "Sestak voted to gut Medicare — a $500 billion cut. Reduced benefits for 850,000 Pennsylvania seniors."
The facts: The law calls for cuts of about $500 billion over 10 years from projected payment increases to hospitals, insurance companies and others under Medicare and other government health care programs. But the Congressional Budget Office places the overall cost of Medicare over 10 years at $7.1 trillion, making the reductions required by the new law amount to 7 percent of Medicare costs.
Not exactly a "gutting."
A portion of the reductions in spending would come from cuts to Medicare Advantage, a system of private insurance plans that now covers about one out of four seniors. Those seniors now receive more coverage than typical Medicare recipients and could lose the extra benefits. The 850,000 seniors mentioned in the ad represent the number of Pennsylvanians covered under Medicare Advantage. But the law did not cut benefits guaranteed under traditional Medicare.
The tactic is a reversal of the usual political playbook. In the past, it has been Democrats who have sought to tar Republicans with wanting to dismantle Medicare.
• Radio ads by AUL Action, the legislative arm of Americans United for Life, targets three House Democrats — John Boccieri of Ohio, Christopher Carney of Pennsylvania and Baron P. Hill of Indiana — for their votes in favor of the health care law.
The claim: The three Democrats "voted for taxpayer-funded abortion in Nancy Pelosi's health care bill … the largest expansion of taxpayer-funded abortions ever."
The facts: Before the bill passed, Mr. Obama signed an executive order affirming long-standing restrictions on taxpayer-funded abortions. In the order, Mr. Obama specifically prohibited "the use of tax credits and cost-sharing reduction payments to pay for abortion services (except in case of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered)."
Under the law, private plans in insurance markets opening for business in 2014 may cover abortions, but payments must come from enrollees themselves, not from federal tax credits that will be offered to make premiums more affordable.
Americans United for Life notes that the executive order is not permanent and could be repealed. Moreover, the group argues that a court "could interpret" the law as requiring federal funding of abortions because it does not specifically prohibit it.
But those are hypotheticals, and the trend is in the other direction. The Health and Human Services Department announced this summer that a program for high-risk uninsured will not cover abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger — exceptions traditionally allowed under federal law. Catholic bishops welcomed the policy, while abortion rights supporters said the restriction went too far.
• The Health Information Campaign, a group supporting the law and founded by former Obama administration allies, is launching its own $2 million national cable and online ad campaign promoting the law and features that are now in effect or about to go into effect.
The claim: The law provides small-business tax credits to make employee coverage more affordable, it will begin to allow young people to remain on their parents' coverage until age 26, and it will prohibit insurers from dropping people from coverage when they get sick.
The facts: All those changes will indeed occur.
But the most expensive provisions of the law won't go into effect until 2014.
That includes the unpopular requirement that all Americans obtain insurance — some with taxpayer help — and that those who don't will have to pay a fine.
There's no mention of that provision in the Health Information Campaign ad.