Fact-checking the new health care overhaul TV ads aimed at Minn.

TV ad opposing national health care reform
A TV ad opposing the Democrats' national health care reform effort from the web site of Employers for a Healthy Economy.
From the web site of Employers for a Healthy Economy

As Democrats prepare to make their final push to pass a health care overhaul bill, national special interest groups are firing off another round of national TV ads.

A coalition of business groups led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has started the volley by airing commercials,including one tailored to Minnesota.

When Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate last January, it looked like a health care reform bill was dead. Gone too were the parade of ads calling on Congress to pass or block the bill.

But now as Democrats say they're nearing agreement on a bill that will survive a procedure called reconciliation, the airwaves are heating up with new ads. Take this one from the "Employers for a Healthy Economy," which appears to show images of a manager laying off employees.

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"Billions in new taxes...more mandates on businesses. Health care costs will go even higher, making a tough economy...worse," the ad says.

The Minnesota version goes on to urge citizens to call and thank Seventh District DFL Congressman Collin Peterson.

Peterson has been Minnesota's only House Democrat who voted against the first health care package and in a written statement this week said he didn't support the Senate bill either. Under the reconciliation rules, House Democrats must first pass the Senate's version of health care and then another bill with changes more to their liking.

Katie Hays of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it's a critical time and it's important businesses reaffirm their position.

"We don't want to see the government come in and really put in more taxes and more burdens and more responsibilities and new mandates on employers who are trying to do the right thing today."

So what about the ad's claims the bill will add billions in new taxes, new mandates on employers; and make a tough economy worse?

The billions in new taxes refers to the tax on so-called Cadillac or higher-premium health plans. Under the senate bill, premiums above $8,500 for individuals and $23,000 for families would be taxed at 40 percent. Most House Democrats oppose that tax. It wasn't in their bill, and organized labor opposed it. President Obama has suggested a compromise -- postpone the tax from taking effect until 2018 and raise the tax trigger by several thousand dollars for individuals and family policies.

And new mandates for business? University of Minnesota health economist Jean Abraham says the Senate bill generally requires businesses with at least 50 employees to provide coverage or face penalties.

"Larger employers would face a slightly stiffer penalty for not offering coverage. The key thing to remember is that in the current legislation, employers that have fewer than 50 workers are exempt from that mandate."

And the ad's claims that the bill will make a tough economy worse? That's a bit of a stretch according to Viveca Novak, Deputy Director of FactCheck.org, a a non-profit affiliated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Novak said major parts of the bill won't take effect for four years and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office or CBO is projecting the economy will improve.

"Between now and then CBO is expecting incremental improvements and projecting that unemployment will have gone down again by 2014. So by the time the major provisions of this bill come into play, the economy is likely to be in much better shape than it is now," Novak said.

The Chamber of Commerce's ad is just the beginning. A coalition of groups supporting health care reform announced today "a major coalitional advertising blitz."

The first of these ads encourage African-American communities to call on Congress to pass the bill. The ads will air locally in predominantly African-American markets; Minnesota is not one of them. For Minnesotans who have cable, they'll be able to see them beginning tomorrow on the BET Network, Black Entertainment Television.