Fact Checking the Republicans I: Socialized Medicine

Factcheck.org found a number of incorrect statements in the Republicans debates, but the most significant two are those I have concentrated on criticizing. The first of these is health care. They debunk statements from Null Set Romney, but the same corrections would apply to Rudy Giuliani’s claims about Democrats supporting socialized medicine:

Health Plan Hoodoo

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney tried to distance his state’s universal health insurance plan from the proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Romney: Every Democrat up there’s talking about a form of socialized medicine, government takeover, massive tax increase…. I’m the guy who actually tackled this issue. We get all of our citizens insured. We get people that were uninsured with private health insurance. We have to stand up and say the market works. Personal responsibility works.

There are two problems with Romney’s characterization: One, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate to propose a single-payer, wholly government-funded health care plan. And two, Romney’s Massachusetts universal insurance system bears a striking resemblance to the health care proposals of the Democratic front-runners.

We first took a look at the Romney-backed health insurance plan after the May 3 Republican presidential debate, when the candidate said it was not a government takeover and juxtaposed his plan with “HillaryCare.” We pointed out that while the plan is not government-administered health insurance, it includes government mandates and subsidies, minimum coverage requirements and fines for noncompliance. The Massachusetts plan is clearly not a complete government takeover; it builds on the private insurance industry – as do the proposals of Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards, and the health care initiative spearheaded by Hillary Clinton in the early ’90s.

Kenneth E. Thorpe, a professor of health policy at Emory University, has analyzed the costs of the Edwards and Obama plans. In reading those and the Massachusetts plans, the similarities are clear, and Thorpe says the Obama and Romney plans are “virtually identical.” Both call for an insurance exchange (an entity that would offer various private insurance plans to the public), and they offer financial assistance to low-income people. Edwards’ proposal differs in that he uses health care plans in the federal employee program, rather than a national exchange. “That’s an implementation difference,” says Thorpe. “The real important part of it, they’re both building on the private insurance industry.”

Sen. Clinton has not released a formal proposal, but when she does, it’s highly unlikely to be a wholly government funded proposal.

Politicians will debate how much government involvement in health insurance regulation is acceptable and how much is stepping on the toes of private insurance companies. But in our view, the term “government takeover” could only be applied to Rep. Kucinich’s proposal. Former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel calls for a federal voucher program, but Kucinich, in fact, brags on his Web site that he’s the only candidate advocating a universal not-for-profit health care system.

Factcheck makes a misleading statement of their own. Dennis Kucinich’s plan for a single payer plan might be called a “government takeover” of the insurance industry, but not of health care delivery. The closest analogy to his system would be Medicare, as opposed to a British-style government run system. Although payment would come from the government, we would still preserve our system of private medical practices. Critics of such plans do have a valid argument that if the government pays the bills they will have control. While there is some truth to this, the reality of our current system is that Medicare does far less to attempt to micromanage what physicians do than many private insurances do.

While Republicans raise scare stories of socialized medicine, it is really the Republicans who support increased government intrusion in health care decisions. It is the Republicans who wish to intervene in a woman’s right to an abortion as well as restrict access to Plan B and to birth control. It is the Republicans who harass physicians who prescribe narcotics to treat chronic pain, and who fight to prevent the use of medicinal marijuana. It was the Republicans who got the government involved in end of life decisions in the Terri Schiavo case. It was a Republican President who devised the current Medicare D plan which is primarily a monetary reward to the pharmaceutical and insurance industries for their huge contributions.

Related Story: Fact Checking the Republicans II: Romney Rewrites History on Iraq Inspections

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