From Death Panels To Death Spirals: The Right-Wing Media's Epic Five-Year Health Care Disinformation Campaign

In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.








MYTH: ACA Creates “Death Panels”

Right-Wing Media Figures Claim Health Care Law Will Create “Death Panels” To Ration Care. The persistent lie that the health care law creates “death panels” began on July 16, 2009, when serial health-care misinformer Betsy McCaughey falsely claimed that the House health care reform bill would “require” end-of-life counseling for seniors to “tell them how to end their life sooner.” McCaughey's claim took its final form in an August 7, 2009, Facebook post by Sarah Palin:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion. [Sarah Palin Facebook post, 8/7/09]

“Death Panel” Claims Have Been Conclusively Discredited. In one of the dozens of media reports debunking claims of euthanasia and “death panels” originally raised by Sarah Palin in attacking earlier versions of the Democrats' health reform legislation, PolitiFact stated:

We've looked at the inflammatory claims that the health care bill encourages euthanasia. It doesn't. There's certainly no 'death board' that determines the worthiness of individuals to receive care. ... [Palin] said that the Democratic plan will ration care and 'my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care.' Palin's statement sounds more like a science fiction movie (Soylent Green, anyone?) than part of an actual bill before Congress. We rate her statement Pants on Fire! [, 8/10/09]

MYTH: ACA Is Socialized And/Or Government-Run Insurance

Media Falsely Portrays Health Care Proposals As "Socialized," “Nationalized” Or "Government-Run." The early legislative frameworks that would eventually become the Affordable Care Act were immediately demonized by the right who characterized the reform proposals as either socialized, nationalized, or government-run health care. Not only were these smears false, they have persisted throughout health care reform's history, even after the legislation dropped the public option, meaning the final law had significantly less government involvement. [Media Matters, 3/5/09; 3/2/09; 3/30/09; 3/4/09]

MYTH: Health Reform Will Add To The Deficit

Media Misinterpret CBO Report To Claim Health Care Bill Will Cost $1 Trillion. On July 17, 2009, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a preliminary analysis of the House version of the health care bill. Media outlets misinterpreted the findings to claim the bill would increase the deficit by $1 trillion over 10 years. The false analysis was parroted by conservatives in the media such as Karl Rove:

ROVE: And think about it. They're planning on a 1 trillion, 420 billion -- 420 million dollar price tag of additional spending over the next 10 years, and what they've done is, today, supposedly -- we haven't seen the details -- but they've trimmed that by 10 percent. So we're only going to beggar ourselves by $900 billion over the next decade and that's assuming they get all of the tax increases and all of the Medicare cuts that are built into this. [Fox News, Hannity, 7/29/09 via Media Matters]

CBO Found That House Bill Would Increase Deficit By $239 Billion Over 10 Years -- Not $1 Trillion. In the July 2009 cost estimate of the bill as introduced in the House of Representatives, the CBO explained that its “estimate reflects a projected 10-year cost of the bill's insurance coverage provisions of $1.042 billion, partly offset by net spending changes that Congressional Budget Office estimates would save $219 billion over the same period, and by revenue provisions that JCT estimates would increase federal revenues by about $583 billion over those 10 years.” CBO thus concluded the legislation “would result in a net increase in the federal budget deficit of $239 billion over the 2010-2019 period.” [CBO, 7/17/09]

Later Estimates Showed The Health Care Law Would Reduce The Deficit. A budgetary estimate released by the CBO in June 2010 confirmed that the ACA will reduce deficits between 2010 and 2019, a projection that has persisted throughout subsequent analyses. [CBO, 6/30/10]

MYTH: Obamacare Covers Undocumented Immigrants

Right-Wing Media Claimed Citizens Would Be Denied Care In Favor Of Undocumented Immigrants. Led by then-Fox News contributor Dick Morris, the right-wing media stoked fears that both the House and Senate versions of the health care bill would lead to American citizens being denied care in favor of undocumented immigrants. On Fox's Hannity, for example, Morris claimed “whether they fund the grief counselor or the end-of-life counselor or not, the rationing will take place when they tell you, no, you can't have the surgery because we have to give it to a 40-year-old illegal immigrant instead.” [Fox News, Hannity, 8/17/09]

Both The House And Senate Bills Excluded Those “Not Lawfully Present” In The United States. Both the America's Affordable Health Choices Act and the Affordable Health Choices Act, the two bills that would become the Affordable Care Act, excluded “individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States” from receiving health care benefits. [Media Matters, 8/20/09]

MYTH: Preventive Health Recommendations Are Evidence That The ACA Will Ration Care

Conservative Media Responds To Task Force Recommendations By Falsely Accusing Health Reform of Rationing. After the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended less frequent mammography screenings for some lower-risk patients, right-wing media quickly jumped to claim this was evidence of government rationing and the banning of mammograms under health care reform. On his radio show, host Rush Limbaugh repeatedly attacked the recommendations claiming that they were “the beginning of rationed care” and that one “might even say you've got death panels going on here.” [Media Matters, 11/18/09]

The Task Force Made Non-Binding Recommendations, Did Not Issue Ban On Coverage. Although many conservatives claimed this was evidence of government rationing of preventative services or a ban on mammograms, in truth the task force simply came up with recommendations that are not legally binding on health care providers or insurers. In fact, the report specified that whether or not this sort of testing should be done is a personal decision: "[t]he decision to start regular, biennial screening mammography before the age of 50 years should be an individual one and take into account patient context, including the patient's values regarding specific benefits and harms." [U.S. Preventative Services Task Force Recommendation Statement, November 2009]

Independent Medicare Advisory Board Is Specifically Prohibited From Rationing Health Care Or Modifying Benefits. According to the legislation, when the “projected per capita growth rate under Medicare” exceeds “the target growth rate for that year,” the board is required to “develop and submit” to Congress a “proposal containing recommendations to reduce the Medicare per capita growth rate to the extent required by this section.” But the legislation explicitly states that the board may not include recommendations to “ration health care,” “restrict benefits,” or “modify eligibility criteria.”:

(ii) The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums under section 1818, 1818A, or 1839, increase Medicare beneficiary cost sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria. [Senate Health Care Bill, accessed 4/8/14]

MYTH: Obamacare Will Subsidize Abortions

The Right Claims House Health Reform Bill Provides Abortion Subsidies. After a health reform bill was introduced in the House in 2009, right-wing media figures jumped to attack it for an incorrect assertion that it would provide government subsidies for abortion and to push the proposed Stupak-Pitts amendment, which would have effectively banned abortion coverage for some who already had it. Michelle Malkin asserted that the plan would include “government subsidies for abortion,” while Rush Limbaugh praised Stupak for “fighting the good fight.” [Media Matters, 11/6/09]

Conservative Media Misinform On Abortion Funding In Senate Health Reform Bill. With the introduction of the Senate's health reform bill, the right took to the media in order to continue to push the myth that the new healthcare law would provide federal funding for abortion. Joining the chorus of mainstream media misinformers were Fox's Peter Johnson Jr and Peter Doocy who claimed the bill allowed for “federal funding of abortions.” Premiere Radio Network's Rush Limbaugh also perpetuated this myth, claiming that health care reform “hinges on” deciding if the U.S. “will pay for the killing of babies”. [Media Matters, 3/17/10]

Both The 2009 Public Option And 2010 Senate Bill Did Not Provide Government Payments For Abortion. Despite the right-wing media's claims to the contrary, both the 2009 House bill and 2010 Senate bill did not include federal funding or subsidies for abortion. Both bills specified that separate funds must be used to fund abortions except in cases allowed by the Hyde Amendment, which bans the federal government from paying for abortions unless the pregnancy is “the result of an act of rape or incest” and in cases where a woman is “in danger of death unless an abortion is performed.” [Media Matters, 11/6/09]

Obama Administration: ACA “Maintains Status Quo of No Federal Funding For Abortions. According to the White House's website, the Affordable Care Act still does not use federal funds to pay for abortion services except “in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered”:

The health insurance reform legislation maintains the status quo of no federal funding for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered. A federal judge recently wrote “the express language of the [Affordable Care Act] does not provide for taxpayer funded abortion. That is a fact and it is clear on its face. [, accessed 4/8/14]


Myth: Obamacare Is A Government Takeover Of Healthcare

Fox News Repeatedly Labeled Health Care Reform A “Government Takeover. During 2010, right-wing media repeatedly promoted the lie that health care reform was a “government takeover.” Across the board, Fox News hosts such as Bill O'Reilly, Gretchen Carlson, Greta Van Susteren, and Sean Hannity pushed the label. In April of 2010, then-Fox host Glenn Beck even accused health care reform of being “Total government control of our health care system.” Hosts were also instructed by their boss to always refer to “public options” as “government options” in order to help turn public opinion against the new health reforms. [Media Matters, 12/17/10]

PolitiFact Names “Government Takeover of Health Care” 2010 Lie Of The Year. By the end of 2010, the claim that health reform constituted a government takeover of healthcare was so pervasive that PolitiFact named it their “Lie of the Year.” In the December 16, 2010 article, they explained that this statement “is simply untrue”:

"PolitiFact reporters have studied the 906-page bill and interviewed independent health care experts. We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover because it relies largely on the existing system of health coverage provided by employers.

It's true that the law does significantly increase government regulation of health insurers. But it is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market.

Republicans who maintain the Democratic plan is a government takeover say that characterization is justified because the plan increases federal regulation and will require Americans to buy health insurance.

But while those provisions are real, the majority of Americans will continue to get coverage from private insurers. And it will bring new business for the insurance industry: People who don't currently have coverage will get it, for the most part, from private insurance companies. [PolitiFact, 12/16/10]

MYTH: Health Care Law Creates 16,000 IRS Agents

Right-Wing Media Claimed Thousands Of New IRS Agents Will Act As “Health Police.” Pushed by media figures such as Newt Gingrich, conservatives claimed the ACA would create 16,000 new Internal Revenue Service agents who would act as “health police”:

GINGRICH: First of all, this is a really bad bill. The more we learn about it, the worse it is. If you say to the average American, do you really want to have 16,000 more IRS agents as a brand-new health police? They're going to say no. [NBC, Today, 4/6/10 via Media Matters] Will IRS Hire 16,500 New Agents To Enforce Health Care Law? “No.” Fact-checkers debunked the claim and criticized it as “partisan” analysis. In a March 30 post, pointed out:

Q: Will the IRS hire 16,500 new agents to enforce the health care law?

A: No. The law requires the IRS mostly to hand out tax credits, not collect penalties. The claim of 16,500 new agents stems from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation" and called the attack “wildly inaccurate. [, 3/30/10]

MYTH: The ACA Is Responsible For Projected Health Care Cost Increases

Fox Blamed Health Care Reform For Estimated Increases In Health Care Costs. After a Hewitt Associates study estimated that the combined average of premium and out-of-pocket costs for employee-based health care coverage would rise 12.4 percent in 2011, right-wing media rushed to blame the Affordable Care Act. Fox's Steve Doocy tied the study to the ACA:

DOOCY: Of course, there are many people who are running for Congress, who have kind of backed away from the fact that they voted for this health care reform bill, even though some Republicans are trying to tie Democrats to that. And, because, as we heard from [House] Speaker [Nancy Pelosi], you know, we're going to pass this thing so we can find out what's in it and then we heard others say once they get to know what's in it, they're going to love it. Well, here we've got a little information and that is not something you're going to love and that is the fact that out-of-pocket expenses are gonna to be rising more than 12 percent for next year. And that -- for many people, as soon as they hear that, they're go, “Wait a minute, we thought the prices were going to go down and they're going up 12 percent? That's not right.[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/28/10 via Media Matters]

Projected Cost Increases Were Attributable To Aging Population, Advances In Technology. As the Chicago Tribune reported, the estimated increases were due to an older workforce and advances in medical technology:

Overall health care costs continue to rise 6 percent to 8 percent annually, primarily because advances in medical technology and the increasing use of medical services by an aging population.

And in the wake of the recession, employment trends also are affecting health care costs: Companies are hiring fewer younger people, so premiums paid by this segment of the working population who typically use fewer health services are not absorbing the costs of older employees who do.

“An older population tends to have chronic conditions like diabetes,” Vlajkovic said. “And when your hiring rates have slowed, you are not bringing in a younger work force.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/10, via Media Matters]

MYTH: New England Journal Of Medicine Survey Found 46% Of Doctors Would Leave Profession Due To ACA

Right-Wing Media Hyped Survey As Evidence Doctors Would Leave Profession If ACA Passed. Before the ACA was passed into law, right-wing media figures claimed a New England Journal of Medicine survey showed that nearly half of primary care physicians would consider leaving the profession if the bill was passed. The survey was repeatedly hyped by the right-wing media and attributed to the prestigious medical journal. [Media Matters, 3/17/10]

The Survey Was Not Conducted By The NEJM, Had Serious Methodology Flaws. The survey in question was not published in the New England Journal of Medicine, but in Recruiting Physicians Today, a free advertiser newsletter that shared a publisher with NEJM. The survey was actually conducted by The Medicus Firm, who emailed doctors in its database. When contacted by Media Matters, the NEJM denied any connection with the survey. [Media Matters, 3/17/10]

MYTH: Obama Paid Off Democrats To Vote For Health Reform

Right-Wing Media Figures Claimed Democrats Such As Rep. Jim Matheson Were Bought Off To Vote For ACA. In the month leading up to the final vote on the health care law, conservatives attempted to manufacture outrage by claiming Democrats were being given personal favors for their votes. One of those stories, for example, centered around Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), whose brother was appointed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. In a March 3 post in The Weekly Standard, John McCormack accused Obama of “selling judgeships for health care votes.” [Weekly Standard, 3/3/10]

Even GOP Lawmakers Called McCormack's Smear “Not True.” Republican lawmakers pushed back on the claim that Scott Matheson's appointment to the 10th Circuitwas in return for his brother's vote on the health care law, pointing out that Matheson was extremely qualified for the position, and the nomination had been in the works for a long time. That sentiment was repeated by Judge Michael McConnell, an appointee of President George W. Bush, who wrote a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune saying, “this speculation cannot be true.” [Media Matters, 3/18/10]

MYTH: Congressional Tool Used To Pass Health Care Law Is Unconstitutional

Right-Wing Media: “Self-Executing Rule” Used To Pass Law Is Unconstitutional. The health care law was partially passed by a congressional tool known as the “self-executing rule,” otherwise known as “deem and pass.” Right-wing media figures attacked the method as unconstitutional and claimed it was being used for the first time in U.S. history. [Media Matters, 3/17/10]

Experts Agreed That Self-Executing Rule Is Constitutional, Used Regularly. In a post on his blog, Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin argued that, if done properly, the self-executing rule is constitutional. Further, in a post on the American Enterprise Institute's blog, congressional expert Normal Ornstein attacked Republicans for “feigned indignation” over use of the rule, pointing out that: “In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of 'deem and pass.'” [Balkinization, 3/15/10; American Enterprise Institute, 3/16/10]

MYTH: People Will Go To Jail For Failing To Get Health Care Coverage

Fox News Alleged That Penalty For Failure To Purchase Health Insurance Is Jail Time. Before the ACA was passed, Fox News stoked fears that the penalty for not having health insurance would be imprisonment. Fox's Bill Hemmer asked, “Could people be going to jail for not owning health insurance?” In an appearance on Fox's Fox & Friends, Rush Limbaugh claimed, “This is a bill that raises taxes 14 times; puts people in jail, potentially, if they don't have health insurance mandated by the government to buy. This is an avenue to control every aspect of life.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/19/10 via Media Matters; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 2/4/10]

The ACA Explicitly Precludes Jail Time Or Criminal Prosecution. The claim that people could be imprisoned for not obtaining health care coverage has been thoroughly debunked by fact-checkers. In fact, the law explicitly states that “In the case of any failure by a taxpayer to timely pay any penalty imposed by this section, such taxpayer shall not be subject to any criminal prosecution or penalty with respect to such failure.” [PolitiFact, 12/13/10; Affordable Care Act, accessed 4/10/14]

MYTH: Health Care Bills Increase The Deficit

Right-Wing Media Figures Ignored Nonpartisan Estimates To Claim Health Care Bills Will Increase Deficit. In early 2010, right-wing media outlets like the Wall Street Journal argued that both the House and the Senate versions of the health care bill would increase the deficit:

On health care, Mr. Obama offered a Willy Loman-esque soliloquy on his year-long effort, as if his bill's underlying virtues and his own hard work haven't been truly appreciated by the American public. He showed no particular willingness to compromise, save for a claim that he was open to other ideas.

And he re-pitched the health bill now in Congress with the same contradiction-covers more people but saves money too-that all but the most devoted partisans long ago dismissed as unbelievable. The President sounded to us like a man who is still hoping Democrats will find a way to sneak this monstrosity into law despite its unpopularity. [Wall Street Journal,1/28/10]

Nonpartisan CBO Found Both Bills Would Reduce The Deficit By Over $100 Billion. In separate estimates on December 19 and 20 in 2009, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that both the House and Senate versions of the health care law would reduce the deficit by over $100 billion over 10 years. [Media Matters, 1/28/10]


MYTH: Obamacare Kills 800,000 Jobs

Right-Wing Media Distorted CBO Report To Claim ACA Will Eliminate 800,000 Jobs. In February 2011, the right-wing media seized on a CBO report that had been released the previous year to claim the agency estimated that the Affordable Care Act would eliminate 800,000 jobs. Fox News, National Review Online, The Weekly Standard, and right-wing blogs all ran posts calling Obamacare “job killing.” [Media Matters, 2/11/11]

CBO Actually Estimated That There Would Be A Voluntary Reduction In Labor. The right-wing media's interpretation of the CBO report was misguided. In fact, the report found that workers will choose to supply less labor. As health care expert Paul Van De Water pointed out:

The CBO report ... finds that health reform's major effect on employment will be a small reduction in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply. For example, some people with pre-existing health conditions may choose to retire earlier if they can obtain health insurance coverage through the new health insurance exchanges and no longer have to wait until age 65 for Medicare. If people voluntarily choose to reduce their hours of work, however, that's not killing jobs. [Email to Media Matters, 10/28/10]

MYTH: Obama Granted ACA Waivers As Political Favors

Conservative Media Claimed Companies Were Being Given The Option To “Opt-Out” Of ACA Requirements As Political Favors. In 2011, the Obama administration granted waivers to some corporations who were providing limited-benefit plans to employees. Those companies were given time to change their plans to comply with the ACA's minimum benefit standards. The right-wing media reacted to the granting of these waivers by accusing President Obama of political cronyism and corruption. [Media Matters, 5/18/11]

Waivers Were Temporary And Not Politically Motivated. Companies were not being given the option to opt-out of ACA regulations, just provided temporary waivers to allow them more time to comply. The waivers allowed employees of those companies to continue receiving health care benefits instead of being dropped entirely. Further, there was no evidence that the granting of the waivers was politically motivated. [Media Matters, 5/18/11]

MYTH:Billions In Extra Spending Was “Hidden In The Health Care Bill”

Fox Ran With Rep. Bachmann's Claim That Billions Were Hidden In Legislation. Fox News parroted a claim from Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) that she had “found billions of dollars hidden in the health care bill.” On Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy claimed:

DOOCY: Meanwhile, ever wonder where all your tax money is going? Well, the federal government certainly can't tell us, there's so much. First, there was a report finding massive amounts of government overlap. Then Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann found billions of dollars hidden in the health care bill. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/9/11 via Media Matters]

Bachmann's Claim Was “Bordering On Ridiculous.” As The Washington Post's Fact Checker blog pointed out, the spending Bachmann declared was “hidden” was actually announced by the Department of Health and Human Services repeatedly. The Post concluded that the attack “does not have credibility”:

While Bachmann in her television appearances echoed Istook's argument that Obama “tied the hands of Congress,” her main points have been that “this money was broken up, hidden in various parts of the bill” -- something akin to a “slush fund” -- and that it was done “secretly, unbeknownst to members of Congress.”

This is bordering on ridiculous. The Congressional Budget Office, the official arbiter of congressional legislation, conducted extensive analyses of the health-care bill. Many of the specific programs identified in the CRS report were listed and examined in the CBO reports that were regularly issued as the legislation made its way through Congress. The CBO reporting also included estimates of the spending for these programs year by year. For complicated reasons, the numbers in the CRS report and the earlier CBO reports are not always exactly the same, but much of it was there in plain sight.

In fact, Bachmann is only talking about half of the ledger. The Obama administration insisted that the health care bill be “paid for” through various revenue raisers and cost cuts in order to not increase the deficit. In the end, CBO declared that the health care bill would reduce the deficit over the next decade. [The Washington Post, 3/9/11]

MYTH: Obamacare Will Require A Prescription For Aspirin

Fox Claimed ACA Will Lead To People Needing A Prescription For Everyday Items. Fox host Bill Hemmer and Dr. Manny Alvarez claimed the health care law would have the unintended consequence of requiring consumers to obtain a prescription for common drugs such as aspirin. Alvarez went further, claiming Tylenol would be “behind the counter” at pharmacies. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 3/11/11 via Media Matters]

Fox's Attack Based On Misreading Health Savings Provision. The ACA does not require prescriptions for over-the-counter drugs; instead it changed rules regarding what drugs were eligible to be purchased with accounts such as Health Savings Accounts, Flexible Spending Accounts, and Health Reimbursement Arrangements. As the Joint Committee on Taxation pointed out, the law redefines medical expenses to conform with existing federal tax law:

Under the provision, with respect to medicines, the definition of medical expense for purposes of employer-provided health coverage (including HRAs and Health FSAs), HSAs, and Archer MSAs, is conformed to the definition for purposes of the itemized deduction for medical expenses, except that prescribed drug is determined without regard to whither the drug is available without a prescription. Thus, under the provision, the cost of over-the-counter medicines may not be reimbursed with excludible income through a Health FSA, HRA, HSA, or Archer MSA, unless the medicine is prescribed by a physician. [Joint Committee on Taxation, Page 77, accessed 4/10/14]

MYTH: Survey Showed That Millions Would Lose Coverage Under ACA

Fox Hyped McKinsey & Co. Survey As Evidence Millions Would Lose Employer-Sponsored Insurance. After the release of a McKinsey & Company survey, Fox News repeatedly claimed it was evidence that 78 million Americans who received coverage through their employers would need to find other sources of health insurance. On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade referred to it as an “official study” and co-host Steve Doocy used it to claim Obama had misled on coverage provisions:

DOOCY: Well, and when the president was trying to sell us on the health care reform initiative, the estimate from the Congressional Budget Office was maybe 7, 8, 9 million Americans might have to hel -- find other forms of health care. But now, this, the McKinsey quarterly report, says that it could be 78 million. And what would the employers do? Well, when they look at the gigantic cost of health care in the future, they'd just go, “You know what, I'd rather just pay the fine.” So, they think that is what may happen. However, going forward, the government may actually have to jack up the fine and make it bigger than 2,000 bucks. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 6/8/11]

McKinsey's Survey Was Widely Criticized And “Not Intended As A Predictive Economic Analysis.” Although Fox hyped it relentlessly, the network never revealed that the study itself admitted that it “was not intended as a predictive economic analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Rather, it captured the attitudes of employers and provided an understanding of the factors that could influence decision making related to employee health benefits.” In addition, the survey's methodology was widely criticized as being “a really bad way to assess how firms will make decisions” according to economist Paul Krugman, who warned “nobody should be quoting this study” for policy decisions. [McKinsey & Company, 6/2011; New York Times, 6/21/11]

MYTH: Obamacare Cuts $500 Billion From Medicare

Right-Wing Media Pushed Misleading Claim That Obamacare Cuts $500 Billion From Medicare. Right-wing media hyped Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget by claiming Obamacare cut $500 billion from Medicare, whereas Ryan's budget did not. On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed, “It was your guy, it was Barack Obama. It's there, $500 billion gone. Ryan didn't do that. Paul Ryan doesn't rape Medicare to the tune of $500 billion.” A Wall Street Journal editorial suggested that Democrat Kathy Hochul, who won a special election, “had the advantage of not having voted for ObamaCare's $500 billion in Medicare cuts.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 5/26/11; The Wall Street Journal, 5/26/11]

Medicare Reduction In ACA Was Aimed At Eliminating “Ineffective Or Wasteful” Parts Of The Program. The $500 billion savings in the ACA largely came from cutting waste and inefficiency, not benefits. FactCheck pointed out that “Whatever you want to call them, it's a $500 billion reduction in the growth of future spending over 10 years, not a slashing of the current Medicare budget or benefits.” PolitiFact noted that “The reductions are aimed at eliminating parts of the Medicare program seen as ineffective or wasteful. For example, the plan phases out payments to the Medicare Advantage program, an optional program set up under the George W. Bush administration, where seniors could opt to enroll in a private insurance program and the federal government would subsidize a portion of their premium.” [, 3/19/10;, 5/10/11]


MYTH: Obamacare Is Unconstitutional

Conservative Media Figures Declared Obamacare Unconstitutional Ahead Of SCOTUS Ruling. The charge that the ACA is unconstitutional began long before the bill was passed into law. In June of 2012, however, those arguments culminated as the Supreme Court ruled on the law. Right-wing media figures had spent three years arguing that the law was unconstitutional, such as Fox's Bill O'Reilly who went “on record as saying now this is unconstitutional. The federal government cannot force you to do or buy anything.” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 8/25/09]

Legal Experts And, Ultimately, The Supreme Court, Decided The ACA Does Not Violate The Constitution. On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, with Chief Justice John Roberts casting the tiebreaking vote and writing the majority opinion that the law's individual mandate fell under Congress' constitutionally granted right to levy taxes. Legal experts had long argued that the law was constitutional. [Supreme Court, 6/28/12 via The Washington Post; Media Matters, 10/30/09]

MYTH: Obamacare Is The Largest Tax Increase In History

Right-Wing Media Attacked Affordable Care Act As “Largest Tax Increase In History” In Wake of Supreme Court Decision: After the June 2012 Supreme Court decision which declared the Affordable Care Act to be constitutional under the government's power to tax, right-wing media rushed to falsely attack it as the largest tax hike in history. Leading the pack was Rush Limbaugh who took to his radio show on June 28 to call it “the biggest tax increase in the history of the world” before other pundits like Jim Hoft and James Pinkerton picked up and ran with the phrase. [Media Matters, 7/3/2012]

Ezra Klein: The Affordable Care Act Is “Not Even The Biggest Tax Hike In The Past 60 Years.” In a July 2 post on The Washington Post's Wonkblog, Ezra Klein noted, "[T]he Affordable Care Act isn't the “biggest tax hike in history.” It's not even the biggest tax hike in the past 60 years. Or 50 years. Or 30 years. Or 20 years." The post included the following chart, created by economist Austin Frakt:

Tax chart

[The Washington Post, 7/2/12]

MYTH: Subsidies Are Not Available In Federal Exchanges

McCaughey Claimed Error In Health Care Law Limited Subsidy Availability. Led by Betsy McCaughey, the right-wing media invented the false claim that in states with federally-operated exchanges, newly insured Americans would not be eligible for premium tax subsidies, a major component of the legislation:

MCCAUGHEY: This law not only calls for the state insurance exchanges, it calls for insurance exchanges to hand out subsidies to people to buy the mandated, mandatory health plan. So, people who were uninsured and have to buy the health plan, people who were previously covered by their employer and got dumped out of health plans because they cost too much, this mandated plan costs so much, they will have to buy health insurance on the exchange, but where is the subsidy? This law empowers subsidies for state health insurance exchanges but in a careless error did not provide for subsidies in exchanges set up by the federal government. [Fox News, Your World, 11/19/12]

So-Called “Error” In Law Did Not Exist. As The Washington Post's Wonkblog pointed out, experts agreed that federally-operated exchanges will be able to offer the same subsidies as state-operated exchanges:

“This is a 2,000-page bill that was put together in extraordinarily messy circumstances,” says Yale University's Abbe Gluck, who has studied the issue. “The provisions that establish the exchanges are separated, but critically in the reconciliation bill [cited above] and in Congress, they always talked about the two exchanges as interchangeable.”

A spokesman for Sen. Baucus agrees. “The clear intention of the health-care law is to provide consumers with tax credits to purchase quality, affordable health coverage through either a state or a federally-facilitated exchange,” says Sean Neary, Senate Finance Committee communications director.


“Judges are pretty practical people,” says Boston University's Abigail Moncrieff, whose work focuses on governmental law. “Even if Adler and Cannon have the right technical reading, it's unlikely it would hold the IRS to that kind of technical mistake when there's so much evidence that Congress did not mean for it.” [Washington Post, 7/16/12]

MYTH: Repealing Obamacare Would Lead To Increased Hiring

Fox Claimed Repeal of the ACA Would “Be Good In Fact For Many Workers.” Fox News supported then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney's pledge to repeal the law if elected, partially by claiming that if the law were successfully repealed, hiring would increase. On Fox News, Fox Business reporter Lauren Simonetti argued that repeal would benefit workers:

HEATHER CHILDERS (co-host): Mitt Romney if he gets in office, he promises that he's going to repeal Obamacare, the health care law. And that could change how some hiring is done.

LAUREN SIMONETTI (Fox Business reporter): Yeah, and that could be good in fact for many workers because while the new health care law says: Give anyone working at least 30 hours a week health insurance or pay a fee. Many bosses are doing neither. Instead, they are cutting back the hours giving their employees. And this is being seen mostly in the restaurant, retail, and hotel businesses. Already CKE Restaurants -- Carls Jr. -- and Darden Restaurants the owner of Red Lobster and Olive Garden they've shifted their hiring plans. But many more are expect to do so if Obama does win tomorrow's election. [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 11/5/12]

ACA Is Expected To Boost Economy And Employment. A 2011 study by the Urban Institute estimated that the cost-containment measures in the ACA will lead to “faster economic growth, more employment and higher family incomes.” Similarly in The New Republic, health care expert and ACA architect Jonathan Gruber wrote that the law will create jobs in the medical profession and an increase in consumer spending which will “provide short-run stimulation to the economy and more hiring” and may “greatly improve the economy in the long run.” [Urban Institute, “How Will the Affordable Care Act Affect Jobs?” 3/21/11; The New Republic, 7/9/12]

MYTH: ACA Provides For $1 Abortions

Right-Wing Media Invented $1 Abortion Lie. Following the release of final regulations about ACA implementation, right-wing media outlets claimed they had discovered provisions that the law allowed exchange consumers to receive abortion procedures for $1. Fox Nation excerpted a portion of a LifeNews article under the headline "$1 Abortions in Obamacare." The article cited a “pro-life source” who claimed “The enrollee will make two payments, $1 per month for abortion and another payment for the rest of the services covered. As described in the rule, the surcharge can only be disclosed to the enrollee at the time of enrollment. Furthermore, insurance plans may only advertise the total cost of the premiums without disclosing that enrollees will be charged a $1 per month fee to pay directly subsidize abortions.” [Fox Nation, 3/13/12]

There Were No $1 Abortions In ACA. The claim is based on a misreading of the ACA's abortion provisions. The law mandates that there must be at least one plan in any exchange that does not provide coverage for abortions, for consumers who oppose it. In plans that do cover abortions, insurance companies must charge an additional fee for the coverage in order to prevent federal money being used to fund abortion. The minimum surcharge is $1 per month per enrollee, but the right-wing media's claim that the procedure will cost that sum was false. [Media Matters, 3/15/12]


MYTH: Media-Pushed “Horror Stories” Show Obamacare Isn't Working

Media Turned To Misleading Anecdotal Evidence To Suggest Obamacare Is Raising Costs. After the ACA's health care exchanges opened, both mainstream and right-wing media outlets highlighted a series of “horror stories” purporting to demonstrate that the insurance plans offered under the exchanges will cost more while providing less coverage. [Media Matters, 11/5/13]

Media's “Horror Stories” Regularly Collapsed Under Scrutiny. Several of the so-called “horror stories” pushed by the media turned out to be based on misinformation or, in some cases, outright lies. CBS This Morning promoted a 56-year old Florida woman named Dianne Barrette who claimed she was losing adequate coverage and was being forced to pay significantly more for her new plan. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple, however, pointed out that Barrette's previous coverage was so inadequate that it could have bankrupted her with even a routine hospitalization. Perhaps the most dishonest of the early horror stories came from Sean Hannity who hosted three couples on his Fox News show who claimed the ACA was causing their medical costs to skyrocket or forcing them to lay off workers. After being contacted by Eric Stern, a former senior counsel to Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, all three couples were found to be pushing misleading information. [The Washington Post, Erik Wemple Blog, 10/28/13; Salon, 10/18/13]

MYTH: Obamacare Turns Doctors Into “Sex Police”

Right-Wing Media Ran With McCaughey's Absurd Claim That ACA Turns Doctors Into “Sex Police.” In a New York Post op-ed, Betsy McCaughey claimed the ACA will “turn doctors into government agents” by requiring them to ask intrusive questions about patients' sexual history and report those details to the federal government. The claim was picked up by right-wing media outlets such as Fox & Friends First, which claimed “Thanks to Obamacare, doctors will be forced to ask patients about their sex life, even if it has nothing to do with the medical treatment that they are seeking at the time.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 9/17/13New York Post, 9/15/13]

Asking Questions About Sexual History Is Standard Practice Which The ACA Does Not Change. In a post on The Incidental Economist, Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics and director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research, argued that asking about sexual history is an important part of a doctor's responsibility and accused McCaughey of inventing inaccurate “reasons to dislike Obamacare”:

Evidently Ms. McCaughey knows some pretty crappy doctors, because if you consider it “inappropriate and unnecessary” to talk to your patients about their sex lives, then you really shouldn't be in the business. I agree that it's not necessary to ask these questions at every visit for every complaint. But seriously, a cardiologist is saying he can't imagine a single occasion when he might ask a patient about his sex life? Really? I'm speechless. [The Incidental Economist, 9/16/13]

MYTH: Congress Exempted Themselves From ACA Provisions

Conservatives Complained Congressional Staff “Exempted” From Obamacare. Republicans and right-wing media figures attempted to gin up outrage that members of Congress and their staffs were exempt from Obamacare. A Wall Street Journal editorial, for example, claimed, “Congressional leaders were in hush-hush talks to exempt themselves and their staff from the wonders of ObamaCare.” On Fox & Friends co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck claimed, “The president's health care law [is] supposed to apply to everybody, but now President Obama's Office of Personnel Management has decided that Congress and their staff will receive extra benefits that no other American gets. How fair is that?” [Wall Street Journal, 8/28/13; Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/19/13, via Media Matters]

The “Congressional Exemption” Does Not Exist. Despite being relentlessly promoted by the right-wing media, health care experts and fact checkers pointed out that not only does the congressional exemption not exist, “lawmakers and their staffs face additional requirements that other Americans don't”:

Our readers may recall that before this provision was created, there were claims circulating that Congress was “exempt” from the law. This twisted reading of the legislation was based on the fact that originally Congress, like other Americans with work-based insurance or Americans on Medicare and Medicaid, wouldn't be eligible for the exchanges. In other words, Congress was supposedly “exempt” when members couldn't participate in the exchanges, and now that they are required to do so, they're still somehow “exempt” from the law. Neither of these convoluted claims is true. [, 8/30/13]

MYTH: ACA Subsidizes Insurance Companies That Don't Make A Profit

Right-Wing Media Claimed Obamacare Provides Insurance Company “Bailout.” After Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) claimed a provision in the ACA known as “risk corridors” were a bailout for insurance companies that don't make a profit under the ACA, the right-wing media promoted his attack. The same attack was used against a similar provision known as reinsurance. Fox's Gretchen Carlson claimed “the government bailing out insurance companies once costs run over a certain amount” and that “taxpayers could be forced to pick up the tab yet again.” [Fox News, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, 1/13/14 via Media Matters]

Risk Corridors And Reinsurance Are Payments Between Insurance Companies, Not Taxpayer Money. Both provisions are managed by the federal government, but do not cost the taxpayers money. Instead, for a few years after the implementation of the exchanges, money is transferred from more profitable insurance companies to those that are less profitable. In a Slate post, Matthew Yglesias explained that reinsurance is a “tax on insurance companies that pays for a subsidy to insurance companies”:

The underlying issue is that the framers of the Affordable Care Act were concerned that in its early years the ACA exchanges would disproportionately attract older and less healthy applicants. To help ensure that the program got off the ground, it includes federally funded “reinsurance” for health care plans in the exchanges. To avoid turning that into a net subsidy to the insurance industry, the reinsurance is funded by an industry-wide levy on work-provided insurance plans. It'll be $12 billion in 2014, ratcheting down to $8 billion in 2015, and $5 billion in 2016. [Slate, Moneybox, 10/14/13]

MYTH: Obamacare Outlaws Wellness Programs

Fox Claimed ACA Makes Wellness Programs Illegal. On Fox & Friends, Steve Doocy interviewed an attorney who was being transferred to a new insurance plan. The attorney, Eric Miller, complained that the new plan would not offer the same wellness benefits. Doocy responded by claiming, “so you got a discount under your old plan because you were healthy. But under Obamacare, that's going to be illegal, right?” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/18/13 via Media Matters]

Obamacare Expands Wellness Programs. A Department of Labor fact sheet listed the new incentives built into the law that “build on existing wellness program policies”:

The Affordable Care Act creates new incentives and builds on existing wellness program policies to promote employer wellness programs and encourage opportunities to support healthier workplaces. The Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS), Labor and the Treasury are jointly releasing proposed rules on wellness programs to reflect the changes to existing wellness provisions made by the Affordable Care Act and to encourage appropriately designed, consumer-protective wellness programs in group health coverage. These proposed rules would be effective for plan years starting on or after January 1, 2014.

The proposed rules continue to support workplace wellness programs, including “participatory wellness programs” which generally are available without regard to an individual's health status. These include, for example, programs that reimburse for the cost of membership in a fitness center; that provide a reward to employees for attending a monthly, no-cost health education seminar; or that provides a reward to employees who complete a health risk assessment without requiring them to take further action. [Department of Labor, accessed 4/11/14]

MYTH: Health Care Reform Law Is Fueling An Increase In Part-Time Jobs

Fox Pushed Claim That ACA Is Creating “More Part-Time Jobs In The Place Of Full-Time Ones.” On America's Newsroom, Fox contributor Karl Rove claimed that because of coverage provisions in the law, one of the consequences of Obamacare is an increase in part-time jobs “in the place of full-time jobs.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 8/30/13 via Media Matters]

There Is No Evidence That The ACA Is Creating More Part-Time Jobs. As economists Jared Bernstein and Paul Van de Water pointed out, "[r]ecent data provide scant evidence that health reform is causing a significant shift toward part-time work." Mark Zandi, the chief economist for Moody's Analytics, agreed, saying that, although he had assumed the law would create more part-time jobs, the trend is not there:

As more data come in, the law's impact can't be seen in hiring statistics, says Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics.

“I was expecting to see it. I was looking for it, and it's not there,'' says Zandi, whose firm manages ADP's surveys of overall private-sector job creation. If the Affordable Care Act ”were causing a drop, you would see meaningful slowing.'' [Politico, 8/6/13; USA Today, 8/21/13]


MYTH: Obama Administration Faked Enrollment Numbers

Right-Wing Media Greeted Enrollment Success By Baselessly Accusing The White House Of Faking Numbers. After the Obama administration announced that they had exceeded the original prediction of seven million people in the first year of open enrollment for the ACA's exchanges, right-wing media figures like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the co-hosts of Fox News' The Five baselessly accused the White House of fabricating the figures, in Hannity's words “cooking the books.” [Media Matters, 3/31/14]

MYTH: Health Care Exchanges Did Not Enroll Enough Young People To Avoid A “Death Spiral”

Right-Wing Media Used Enrollment Numbers To Predict Obamacare Collapse. After the release of January estimates regarding enrollment in the exchanges, right-wing media outlets claimed the law would enter a “death spiral” as premiums skyrocketed because too few young and/or healthy people had signed up for a plan. On Fox & Friends, co-hosts Steve Doocy, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Brian Kilmeade claimed that the ACA's young adult enrollment numbers were insufficient “to balance the books”:

KILMEADE: And now today some stats come out about the Affordable Care Act. And it turns out to the surprise of almost nobody, the young people are not signing up and in order to balance the books and to make the Affordable Care Act affordable, healthy people have to enroll. These numbers don't lie. Look at this.

HASSELBECK: And we have -- this actually shows that the young people are much more wise when it comes to shopping than maybe anybody else. Only 25 percent of the enrollees right now are between 18 and 34.

DOOCY: That's short of the goal.

HASSELBECK: 25 percent. Way short of the goal. 55 percent of early enrollees are between 45 and 64.

DOOCY: That's way over the goal!


HASSELBECK: Well they're short of the goal. It's also lopsided though, right because they are relying on the young and healthies to offset the cost of those who will just by nature of their deteriorating health cost the system more and that's a grave concern. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/14/14 via Media Matters]

Health Care Experts: The ACA Already Has Enough Young Enrollees To Avoid “Death Spiral.” Health care experts argued that young people were more likely to enroll in the later period of open enrollment, citing Massachusetts' similar law as evidence. In addition, a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation pointed out if young people were 25 percent of the total enrollment, insurance companies would still be expected to make a profit and the effect on premiums “would be well below the level that would trigger a 'death spiral.'” [The Atlantic, 10/24/13; Kaiser Family Foundation, 12/17/13]