Scoring Truthfulness in the Health Care Debate

Everyone knows the background, so let’s just get to the data. I tabulated the various claims related to health care that Politifact has evaluated. I began after the presidential election and excluded claims related to other health care topics (e.g, H1N1).

Then I broke down the results into two groups: claims by Republicans or opponents of health care reform and claims by Democrats or supporters of health care reform. I also separated Obama’s claims from those of Democrats.

Here are the results:


As you can see, and as Politifact editor Bill Adair has noted, the claims of Republicans and opponents of health care are much more likely to be false than true. Overall, 76% of their claims (16 of 21) are either “false ” or “pants on fire.”

They are also more likely to be false than are claims of Democrats and supporters of reform. Overall, 28% (5 of 18) of Democrats’ claims are “false.”

Finally, Obama has been more truthful than either Republicans/opponents or other Democrats/supporters: 22% of his claims have been “false” (2 of 9); more than half have been “mostly true” or “true.”

Of course, these data are hardly dispositive. There is always the concern that Politifact has not systematically sampled health care claims, focusing instead on those that are simply getting the most attention or are the most inflammatory. Nevertheless, the data accord with what casual observation would suggest: opponents of health care reform have been more dishonest than supporters.

Update: In comments, Ted Brader suggests that this conclusion is too strong, given the limitations of these data. I was trying to hedge with words like “accord with” and “suggest” (as opposed to “prove” or “show”), but perhaps I didn’t hedge enough. These results are provisional, and systematic data are certainly necessary.

31 Responses to Scoring Truthfulness in the Health Care Debate

  1. Andrew August 14, 2009 at 10:46 am #

    I’d like to see someone do content analysis showing the distribution of the rated statements across major media outlets/companies…is Fox really fair and balanced? Are the mainstream media presenting false equivalents? Inquiring minds want to know!

  2. Ted Brader August 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    Maybe we should be more careful, John? The Politifact assessments seem reasonable enough to me (at a glance). But what can we really make of these distributions? They could be right on, or off by a big margin in any direction. There’s nothing scientific about them. Contrary to your final suggestion, I don’t think we can be confident in validity just because someone’s anecdotal impressions match someone else’s unscientific “sample” and rating scheme. I guess my inclination is to be cautious as a political scientist in advancing claims with partisan implications; our science is normally better this.

  3. Freedom Fan August 14, 2009 at 12:31 pm #

    Obama tells us that his health plan will reduce the deficit, expand health coverage, improve quality, never impose rationing and cost nothing.

    It is becoming obvious to even the dimmest bulbs among Obama-worshippers that just about everything, that Obama and his state-run media claims, is a lie.

    Here’s my “truth-o-meter” for your bogus article:

    “…[O]ne group that opposes an overhaul says the health care bill allows illegal immigrants to get free medicine. We gave that our lowest rating on our Truth-O-Meter: a pants on fire”
    -Bill Adair

    On July 21, Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) offered an amendment to the House Energy and Commerce Committee that would explicitly prohibit illegal aliens from receiving health care benefits under the health care reform bill. The amendment was defeated.

    Your post is a ludicrous attempt to convince us that it is the evil Republicans who are the ones doing the lying about Boss Obama’s health care tooth fairy.

    Sorry, no one is buying the lies you’re selling anymore.

  4. John Sides August 14, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    Ted: I certainly agree about the limitations of these data. Perhaps my concluding sentence is too strong.

  5. SteveinCH August 14, 2009 at 12:45 pm #

    I read through the politifact assessments (at least the first three pages) and it doesn’t seem so straight up to me. Of particular note to me is that many of the “false” readings come from discussions of what will happen to choice. The short answer is nobody knows. I also note, in terms of the distribution, that there are many more mentions of one thought from conservatives than from liberals, thus skewing the distribution. Any time a republican says 120 million will need to leave their plans, it’s scored as false. When the President says nobody will, it’s not scored the same way and it isn’t repeated 5 times all as false.

    In addition, the discussion of the role of federal mandates on coverage is not scored evenly in my opinion. Saying people will have no choice is scored false (fair enough) but where’s the plethora of quotes about you can keep your coverage if you want to (scored half true).

    The simple fact is that some people will lose their current health insurance under any plan that resembles the House plan (HR 3200) or the Senate HELP bill. How many people will and how that number compares to how many would have anyway, well there’s the rub.

    As it relates to mandates, under any system there will be more mandates. This will tend to increase demand for services (particularly preventative ones) and, in the short term, force rationing. Depending on how prices are set, rationing may be short-term or longer-term. Again, nobody knows.

    I would score every comment about the future of our health system under a new plan as partially true or partially false or unknown since almost any forward looking statement will be wrong based on no clear bill to refer to and insufficient understanding of system dynamics to make an accurate projection.

    Therein lies the President’s problem. It is undoubtedly the case that any plan will make some people worse off and some people better off. Since nobody can project clearly (unlike for example with tax changes), people fear they will lose and oppose because if you already think your coverage is good or excellent, why would you take even and even odds bet on it getting better or worse.

  6. anon August 14, 2009 at 1:28 pm #

    OK, so liberals are just so retarded that they believe that expanding coverage will lower costs.

    Sorry for accusing them of lying, I should have been more open to the Liberal Economic Learning Disability.

  7. Gee Vee August 14, 2009 at 1:32 pm #

    Grassroots Alert! I have a simple plan that will let the government know the breath and depth of how the American people feel. Its so simple that I hope that you pass it on to everyone you know. Here goes:

    Everytime the President, his staff, a Senator or Congressman tries to peddle Obamacare with their lies and misinformation, just send an email to like they asked! It will let them know we are paying attention and we ain’t buying! It hopefully will also discourage the so-called snitch patrols and get some truth into the debate.

  8. clif August 14, 2009 at 2:22 pm #

    It seems easy to break down the huge divide. If you trust the government, then the open ended wording of HR3200 with its stipulations eliminating judicial oversight don’t give you pause. After all, The Government would never take advantage of the wide powers granted to the various review boards and commisioners and the Secretary.

    If you distrust government. Then of course the wording scares you to death. You know that the government can and will exercise every power granted or not explicitly limited. That includes making the end of life choices that Gov. Palin has discussed.

    So, which side are you on? I don’t trust government, state, fed or otherwise to do anything that is in my best interest. Nor has the last 50 years led me to believe I should.

  9. JohnR August 14, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    Completely irrelevant. Doesn’t matter which some is lying “more” or “less”.

    Voter approval of Obamacare tanked after CBO analysis determined that not only does Obamacare NOT bend the cost curve down…it adds trillions (!!) to the natonal debt.

    That was the beginning of the end. Then voters started hearing disconnect between vague Obama promises (you can keep your doctor, insurance, etc.) and the details of the bill.

    Obamacare is dead. The Dems will pass a watered down bill to regulate insurance companies and then declare a great victory.

  10. JenD August 14, 2009 at 3:28 pm #

    How would you know what’s “true” or “false”? Have you actually read any of the 1000+ page proposal?

  11. Matt Jarvis August 14, 2009 at 5:03 pm #

    You opened Pandora’s box. Have fun.

  12. Sebastian August 14, 2009 at 6:00 pm #

    I’m quite curious where all the commentators suddenly visiting the quaint corner of the blogosphere that is the Monkey Cage are coming from…
    Any prominent blogs linking here?

  13. Crissa August 14, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

    Washington Monthly linked here.

    Tho the commenters here seem a mish-mash – no one will lose their current coverage. Why? Because even if your current coverage doesn’t match up to the mandate, that you have coverage before the mandate qualifies it.

    The amendment about illegal aliens was stupid – because all of the bills string the help to pay for healthcare with your social security benefits. Immigrants already don’t qualify for those. In fact, there’s no mechanism in any of the offered bills to help pay for legal visitors, let alone illegal ones. So the illegal immigrant argument is a load of hooey.

    Still, I don’t get their version of ‘false’ vs ‘pants on fire’. They’re marking ‘false’ as things they don’t feel able to claim – like whether it would save us money or not raise the deficit. That’s not false, it’s just less certain. It’s certainly not false in the way the death panels claims are false.

  14. Linkmeister August 14, 2009 at 8:30 pm #

    Any prominent blogs linking here?

    I got here from Benen at Political Animal, so at least one has linked to this.

  15. Anonymous Coward August 14, 2009 at 9:18 pm #

    Sebastian: 21st century versions of serdar argic is my bet.

  16. Tom M August 15, 2009 at 4:59 am #

    freedom fan” is part of thenproble. Obama tells us that his health plan will reduce the deficit, expand health coverage, improve quality, never impose rationing and cost nothing
    The current system imposes rationing and Obama hasn’t said there won’t be “any.” He’s said the insurnce industry does it now. Any time you’re dealing with a resource, you have “rationing.” It’s just not in the wildly pejorative sense he the fan uses the word (as well as every right blogger on the net)
    As for cost, the US spends over $6,000/person on health care now and that’s 40% more than any other country in the OECD. The US spends $2 trillion on health care, so where do you, fan, think that extra $800 billion is going?
    You’re being systematically looted and you don’t want a change? You aren’t a fan, you’re just crazy.

  17. Seth August 15, 2009 at 9:11 am #

    Thank goodness for organizations like Politifact that can keep this debate from getting too polarized.

  18. Sebastian August 15, 2009 at 9:26 am #

    hey “Coward” –
    thanks – learned something new (serdar argic – not the existence of the phenomenon).

    Thankfully the townhall visitors seem to have moved on 😉

  19. Tim August 15, 2009 at 12:03 pm #

    I would urge every voter to send their congressmen and representative a simple email. I sincerely believe we won’t be heard, but it might be worth a try:
    Dear Congressman (Senator) (Representative) xxxxxxx,
    I agree our health care system needs improvement, when it comes time for a vote on the health care issues, I ask simply for two things, first, read the proposal entirely, and second, if you personally will not enroll in it, please don’t bother passing such a bill

  20. Norris Hall August 15, 2009 at 12:19 pm #

    My wife and I are in our 60’s
    We are self employed
    My wife has a pacemaker
    I am in good health
    We have Blue Shield
    The most affordable policy we could find at our age was their PPO 4000/8000 plan
    Our monthly premiums are $915 per month..
    Our deductible is $4000 per year per person.
    So basically we are “self insured” since we pay at least $15,000 per person per year for insurance premiums and health care before we can get a dime of help from Blue Shield.
    I’ve tried everything I can think of to get our premiums down. Even looked into a small group plan.

    It’s gotten to the point that we’ve started going abroad for medical care
    For the past 4 years we’ve been saving up all our medical and dental problems and making a 3 week visit to a Thai hospital where the care is excellent and the cost…just a fraction of what I would have to pay out of pocket in the US. For example, last November I had an Endoscopic balloon dilation for a condition known as dysphagia. The specialist in the US said the operation would cost me $2500. (His bill for the 15 minute consultation was $250.) I decided to wait until I got to Thailand and had it done in at Chulalonkorn public hospital…cost $100 including biopsy, (all I needed for ID was my US passport. No questions asked!!)

    Of course, to maximize our dollars we also had complete physicals…a battery of test that, I am told, would cost $2500 in the US (Thailand price $300) and had my teeth cleaned and a cavity filled

    So, after the $800 airfare…I came out well ahead.

    8 months later I am back home in America…a little less poor…and in great health.

  21. DN August 15, 2009 at 4:05 pm #

    Wow. Never expected to see these sorts of comments at the Monkey Cage.

    FWIW, the bill already bans payment for illegal aliens. The amendment itself created an affirmative requirement that individuals prove their citizenship status. I imagine this is nothing more than a case of rejecting an administratively onerous requirement.

  22. Angela August 17, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    Norris Hall – Could you post how you researched this out of country health care? I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and am wondering if it might be an option for a chronic illness. Right now, we pay $1400 for health care insurance, and it seems as if I spend a large portion of my time on the phone arguing with the insurance company. I have heard of more and more people who can afford it leaving the country to get cheaper and better care. I wish someone would explore how much income our health system is losing due to this issue.

  23. sugarfree August 18, 2009 at 11:49 am #

    @anon: Of course expanding coverage will decrease costs. The uninsured are *already* being covered, in a way, by the emergency room. Unfortunately, it’s done at an extremely high cost and gets written off because they can’t pay the bill. Society ends up paying for it in the end.

    Now, if these folks had access to traditional, preventative care, they’d be able to cheaply solve health problems before it got bad enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room.

    Penny-wise, pound-foolish pretty much defines the health care reform opposition.

    Denying care now just costs you more money down the line. Why do you want to waste?

  24. The Magical Pig August 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    @Ted and Norris: Yes, I was listening to the debate on that amendment — if I recall correctly, the amendment was basically to make emergency care recipients provide proof of citizenship before receiving care. The amendment failed because it would have resulted in denying care to citizens who didn’t happen to have proof of citizenship on them when they ended up in the emergency room.

  25. ianam August 18, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

    “perhaps I didn’t hedge enough”

    No, Ted’s reading comprehension is poor. “the data accord with what casual observation would suggest” is a fact, one that says nothing about the validity of the stated suggestion above and beyond the validity of the data itself.

  26. ianam August 18, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

    “It is becoming obvious to even the dimmest bulbs among Obama-worshippers that just about everything, that Obama and his state-run media claims, is a lie.”

    Indeed it is only the dimmest bulbs to whom that is obvious.

  27. ianam August 18, 2009 at 3:56 pm #

    “@anon: Of course expanding coverage will decrease costs.”

    Regardless of whether that is the case, expanding coverage and decreasing costs are two different goals of health care reform, rather than the former being proposed as a means to achieve the latter, contrary to anon’s foolish, ignorant, and intellectually dishonest statement that “liberals are just so retarded that they believe that expanding coverage will lower costs”.

  28. Kastanj August 18, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    But the right-wing lies are for a good cause! That makes them OK!

  29. That Tall Guy Over There August 18, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    Interesting points, but I have one question: At there are over 90 facts listed (20 on 5 pages and 10 on page 6). There are two pants on fires attributed to John Edwards and Joe Biden, but those are not reflected in your chart. What was your methodology in choosing from these 90?

    Also, I like the pulling of Obama from the others. It gives a more accurate position of the Democrats imo.

  30. Will August 19, 2009 at 5:17 am #

    In case you’re wondering, this page has been linked to by Crooks and Liars – so expect more idiots insisting on their own rightness over the next few days.

  31. John Sides August 19, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    Tall Guy: As I said in the post, “I began after the presidential election and excluded claims related to other health care topics (e.g, H1N1).”