- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama sought Wednesday to clear away a “blizzard of charges and countercharges” that he says has caused confusion in the health care debate, and while he amended some of his past statements, other claims remain debatable.

In a nod to criticism from those who say he has inflated the number of Americans without health insurance, Mr. Obama gave a smaller description of this group than he has previously.

“There are now more than 30 million American citizens who cannot get coverage,” Mr. Obama said, in a change from the oft-repeated claim in the past that there are 46 million Americans without health insurance.

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But the president continued to maintain that nothing in his reform plan will require those currently insured to change plans or physicians. His plan, however, likely will lead some employers to stop paying for employees’ health care to shift them onto a government-run insurance plan.

Yet even here, Mr. Obama showed signs of calibration. He carefully said only that no one would be forced to change their health care under his plan, rather than saying as he has in the past that all Americans would be able to keep their insurance and physicians if they liked them.

“If you are among the hundreds of millions of Americans who already have health insurance through your job, Medicare, Medicaid or the VA, nothing in this plan will require you or your employer to change the coverage or the doctor you have,” Mr. Obama said. “Let me repeat this: Nothing in our plan requires you to change what you have.”

As the nonpartisan FactCheck.org has noted, none of the plans circulating through Congress would “require anyone to switch health insurance.”

But, the group, which is based at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, said under Mr. Obama’s plan “employers may well choose to buy a different health insurance plan once any health coverage overhaul takes effect.”

The number of people who would be shifted off of employer-provided health insurance has varied in different estimates of different plans, depending on whether the public option is available to large firms as well as small, and on the rates that the public option pays to providers. But it is well established that on the small end, about 10 million people would be moved onto the government-run option, and on the high end, about 88 million people would be shifted out of their current arrangement.

Mr. Obama also tried to rebut two inflammatory charges about his plan, regarding coverage for illegal immigrants and paying for abortions.

He said that his plan would not provide coverage for illegal immigrants, but FactCheck.org said that it is possible that 5.6 million of the estimated 9.7 million uninsured immigrants are in the country illegally, though they said there is no “hard data” to verify it.

Mr. Obama’s assertion that “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions” does not comport with findings by FactCheck.

“As for the House bill as it stands now, it’s a matter of fact that it would allow both a ‘public plan’ and newly subsidized private plans to cover all abortions,” FactCheck said.

Another claim made by Mr. Obama in his address to a joint session of Congress was that he will not sign a health care bill if it adds to the federal budget deficit.

“I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits, either now or in the future. Period,” he said.

So far, however, all current proposals fall short of the mark.

The Congressional Budget Office found in July that the House bill will increase the deficit by $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period. And on Wednesday morning, hours before Mr. Obama’s speech, a new study showed that the nation’s budget imbalance would skyrocket after 2020 under the same piece of legislation.

The House bill would increase the budget deficit by $1 trillion between 2020 to 2029, up from a $39 billion increase from 2010 through 2019, said a Peterson Foundation study conducted by the nonpartisan Lewin Group. The overall cost of the bill would be roughly $3 trillion from 2010 to 2029, the study said, and is currently only offset by savings and new revenue of about $2 trillion.

Mr. Obama promised “a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize.”

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