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Anatomy of Another ACA Lie

Posted by John McDonough  April 5, 2012 01:40 PM

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Lots of folks ask me why I think the Affordable Care Act/ObamaCare is so unpopular. I first assert that it's not as unpopular as popularly characterized (see Kaiser Family Foundation monthly tracking polls) and then I refer to the deliberate and false claims about the law being widely circulated around the nation, particularly aimed at senior citizens. I wrote about one particular falsehood last month. Now, my newfound pals at the GE Retirees Association yesterday sent me another they have been receiving in their email inboxes:

Subject: Medicare Premiums ---FYI
Look clearly at the 2014 rate compared to the 2013 rate.

For those of you who are on Medicare, read the following. It's short, but important and you probably haven't heard about it in the Mainstream News:

"The per person Medicare Insurance Premium will increase from the present Monthly Fee of $96.40, rising to:

$104.20 in 2012

$120.20 in 2013


$247.00 in 2014."

These are Provisions incorporated in the Obamacare Legislation, purposely delayed so as not to confuse the 2012 Re-Election Campaigns. Send this to all Seniors that you know, so they will know who's throwing them under the bus.

Peggy Riehle
Internal Representative
Network Contracting

Blue Cross Blue Shield.jpg

Could I verify or contradict the message, my GE Retiree friends wanted to know. Didn't sound right to me, so I did some investigating. My contacts in the Obama Administration and the U.S. Senate said it's a viral email lie that has been going around for more than one year now. Independently, did their own investigation last year of these claims, and here is their conclusion:

This widely circulating message is similar to a falsehood-filled screed that went around last year, urging "retribution" against members of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections. This message makes somewhat different accusations -- also false -- and urges voters to "remember" in November 2012. ...

It claims that "those of you who are on Medicare" can thank "Obamacare" for increases in the per-person monthly Medicare premium -- "to a wonderful $247.00 in 2014." This is also false. The basic premium for Medicare Part B (which covers physician services) was indeed $96.40 in 2009. But the other numbers are all wrong. It was $110.50 last year, for example, and not $104.20 as claimed. And it is $115.40 this year, not $120.20 as claimed.

Actually, only 27 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are paying the basic rate. The rest -- 73 percent -- are paying less under a "hold harmless" provision triggered by the lack of a cost-of-living increase in Social Security this year or last year. Most are still paying $96.40.

As for the future, nobody can say with precision what the basic Part B premium will be next year or the year after, let alone in 2014. The premium is set each year at a level calculated to pay for 25 percent of the cost of the coverage. Medicare officials do keep close watch on the trends, however.

And when we contacted Medicare's Office of the Actuary, we were given these projections -- the most recent available -- which are current as of the president's budget for fiscal year 2012 issued in mid-February:

Medicare Part B Standard Premium (projected, February 2011)
2012 $108.20
2013 $112.10
2014 $117.10
Source: Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services

I was particularly intrigued because the vital email in question included the insignia of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama. I called the number in question and it has been disconnected. I contacted the public affairs office of BCBS-Alabama and a lovely woman informed me that the individual in question received the viral email on her home computer, and then inappropriately re-distributed it via her work email with the identifying information. The public affairs office emphasizes the BCBS-Alabama "does not endorse" the message at all, is instituting new rules of conduct for all employees based on this incident and will be holding training sessions for all their associates on the new code in June.  They have been overwhelmed with inquiries regarding the viral message and sincerely wish it would all go away.

The lie, meanwhile, has taken on a life of its own and will not die anytime soon.

And people continue to wonder, why is the ACA so unpopular?

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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