Sunday, January 19, 2014

My commentary on Politifacts Lie of the Year for 2013 "You can keep your insurance plan..."

I meant to post this weeks ago, but here you are. If you want to hear this in the show, it is at the beginning of my 12/16/13 show here:

Most of you know that Politifact is a fact checking organization that is affiliated with the Tampa Bay Times. When politicians or prominent individuals make statements about policy, politifact often does a piece on the statement and rates how true the statement is. The ratings range from True all the way to Pants on Fire. In order of most true to most untrue, the ratings are True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants on Fire.

Politifact also does a special at the end of each year where they assign a certain statement as their lie of the year. Since Politifact has started doing the lie of the year in 2009, the Republicans have won lie of the year three out of four years.

In 2012, Politifact’s lie of the year was when Mitt Romney said that Barack Obama quote "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs. Endquote. It turned out that this was not true, it was demonstrably untrue, to the point that Chrysler put out a statement saying they were exploring some expansion into China, but it would have no impact on existing production. Then to add to their woes, the Romney campaign doubled down on the claim even when they were shown it was untrue.

In 2010, Politifact’s lie of the year was that Obamacare the Affordable Care Act would be a government takeover of healthcare. Remember that one? Obviously we know that’s not true. If anything, Private insurance companies are experiencing a bonanza in new policies because that is in general what Obamacare does, it signs people up for new private insurance policies.

That was obvious to anyone who read the bill. Republicans made statements they knew to be untrue

In 2009, Politifact’s lie of the year was Republicans claiming that Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act would create deathpanels where seniors and the disabled would have to stand before a committee who would decide if they were worthy of health care. The old killing grandma canard.

Again, the same as 2010, Republicans were making statements they knew to be untrue.

Before I go further, this is going to sound a little silly, but bear with me, let’s talk about what a lie is. My mother was born in Panama and emigrated here in the 1950’s and has only held those two citizenships, US and Panamanian. If I told you my mother was Queen of England, that would be a lie. It’s not true, I know it’s not true but I would be asserting it as fact even though I know it is not true. That’s a lie. Something you know to be untrue, but you assert it as fact anyway.

Let’s take another example. What if I tell you that Hillary Clinton will be President in 2016 and then, for whatever reason, someone else wins. Or what if you give me a math problem to work out, my calculations give me an answer and I tell you that is the answer, but my computations were wrong. Did I lie when I said that Hillary Clinton will be President? Did I lie when I told you the answer I came up with to the math problem?

No. A lie is something very specific. You make a statement that you absolutely positively know is untrue and you assert it as fact. It’s not a guess that turns out to not work out, it’s not a situation where you may not have known all the facts and made an error, it’s not wishful thinking.

So, now, lets get to what Politifact claims is their lie of the year for 2013.

Politifacts lie of the year for 2013 was according to them when President Obama said 'If you like your health care plan, you can keep it’.

OK, this has been talked about a lot, chances are if you live in the United States, you have heard someone discuss this statement by the President and you probably have strong opinions on it.

I have a number of problems with Politifact claiming this is the lie of the year and not coincidentally, I have actually already given you a lot of the background for why I have such a problem with it.

Listen to how Politifact justified naming this statement lie of the year. I’ll read you some of it.

Why the cancellations happened
How did we get to this point?
The Affordable Care Act tried to allow existing health plans to continue under a complicated process called "grandfathering," which basically said insurance companies could keep selling plans if they followed certain rules.
The problem for insurers was that the Obamacare rules were strict. If the plans deviated even a little, they would lose their grandfathered status. In practice, that meant insurers canceled plans that didn’t meet new standards.
Obama’s team seemed to understand that likelihood. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the grandfathering rules in June 2010 and acknowledged that some plans would go away. Yet Obama repeated "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it" when seeking re-election last year.”

A couple of things jump out at me there. First, there were rules wherein if insurance companies followed them, the policies could have stayed in force. For this statement by Obama to be a lie, he would have had to know as fact that the insurance companies would not follow those rules.

How could he possibly know that?

Not only that, wouldn’t it seem to be in the insurance companies’ interests to try to follow those rules? Don’t they want to keep customers on their policies? Isn’t that how they make money? Wouldn’t you expect that they would do everything they can not to cancel someone’s policy. If United or Blue Cross or whoever else cancels someone’s policy, wouldn’t they be afraid you would be so annoyed with them that you would go to someone else and therefore wouldn’t you think they would do what is required to not have to cancel the policy therefore leaving you your choice to stay with your existing insurance

I can easily see making that assumption. Making that assumption does not qualify as a lie if it does not pan out. It qualifies as an error, not a lie.

Furthermore, what the President did once he realized what was happening was to create a new program where states could opt to force insurance companies to keep existing plans in place for a grandfather period. On November 14, 2013, in a letter to state insurance commissioners, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) outlined the conditions insurers must meet in order to continue offering noncompliant policies. The letter is available on the CMS website,

The last time I checked, around thirteen states had accepted this program and half as many had rejected it and the rest were still deciding.

So at the end of the day, a large percentage of people in this country will be able to keep their health insurance plans. Does that still sound like a lie?

What we have is an understandable error that has been fixed to the best of the President’s ability and could have been fixed 100% if not for the folks in charge of the state healthcare exchanges who rejected it. Of course, had the insurance companies made the changes they were required to make to those policies to bring them into compliance no on one would have been at risk of being cancelled in the first place. And again, these are changes that it would be reasonable to expect them to make given the way they make money is to have as many people on policies as possible.

Does this in any way resemble a lie let alone lie of the year? It’s preposterous when you go through it. That doesn’t compare with the idea that the health care law is going to be used to kill grandma.

Folks over at Politifact, you screwed up here. Politifact themselves lied when they characterized the President’s statement as a lie.

Oh and by the way, in another set of statistics Politifact keeps regarding the President, they track his campaign promises. As of now, five years into his Presidency, he has followed through on over 70 percent of his campaign promises and another six percent Politifact rates as in the works.

That’s not a guy who lies or misleads.

We’ll be right back.