Top 5 myths about 'Obamacare' that refuse to die

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Barack Obama
In this July 18, 2013, file photo President Barack Obama, standing with families who benefited from the health care law provision that provides consumers with a refund if their insurance company doesn't spend the majority of premium dollars on medical care, speaks about the Affordable Care Act in the East Room at the White House in Washington. Three years after campaigning on a vow to "repeal and replace'" Obama's health care law, House Republicans have yet to advance an alternative for the system they have voted more than three dozen times to abolish in whole or in part.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File

The Affordable Care Act has been on the books for almost three and a half years. But myths about the law persist.

Many people are confused about the law because it is big and complicated, said University of Minnesota political science professor Lawrence Jacobs, who has studied and written about Obamacare.

But Jacobs also pointed out that people tend to be entrenched in their beliefs about the law so they aren't necessarily trying to inform themselves in ways that would dispel myths.

Take the rumor that Obamacare promotes "death panels." PolitiFact.com named the myth its "Lie of the Year" in 2009.

"The idea persists because the information that a lot of people get is coming from sources that tend to reinforce their existing beliefs," Jacobs said.

False claims about Obamacare stand to cause political problems for Obama and the success of the Affordable Care Act, Jacobs said.

Between working at PolitiFact.com and writing PoliGraph for MPR News, I've come across a lot of whoppers about the health care overhaul. Here are my picks for the top five myths about Obamacare that refuse to die.

1) The law creates "death panels."

In the summer of 2009, just as the debate over health care reform began, former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin wrote on Facebook that seniors and the disabled will "have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care."

The law does not create death panels that choose who gets care and who doesn't.

Palin may have been referring to a provision in a version of the bill being debated in the U.S. House at the time that would have created a group to study which medical treatments are the most effective.

Read PolitiFact's analysis of Palin's statement here.

2) The law represents a government takeover of healthcare.

That's a line that's stuck since the early days of the health care debate even though the government isn't taking over anything beyond the job of creating online marketplaces where consumers and small business owners can shop for health plans.

Initially, Obama wanted to create a public option — a government insurance program similar to Medicare, but open to everyone. But that idea was dropped early on.

The health care law does not make doctors public employees and it does not put the government in charge of hospitals, as is the case in parts of Europe.

It's true that the law does make some important changes to how health insurance works in the United States: it prevents insurers from denying coverage to customers with preexisting medical conditions; it requires health plans to provide a minimum level of coverage. But those amount to new federal regulations affecting an industry that is already highly regulated at the state level.

So, does that amount to a government takeover? Several fact-checkers, including PoliGraph, say no.

3) You won't be able to keep your doctor or your current insurance.

This claim falls into more of a grey area, because a lot depends on how you are currently insured.

For people who get their insurance through their employer, not a whole lot will change unless the employer decides to change the coverage it offers. There's nothing in the law that requires changes.

If you're buying insurance through one of the new exchanges, it's possible you won't be able to find a plan that includes your current physician. But that's largely a function of the provider networks insurers use. And it doesn't mean you won't be able to choose your providers within a defined network.

If you buy your own insurance now and like it, you can keep it -- assuming the coverage meets the minimum federal coverage requirements. Some plans won't. But if you later switch to an insurance plan sold on MNsure, the coverage may be more robust to meet new health plan standards for plans sold on the exchanges.

The bare-bones plans grandfathered in under the law will eventually disappear as a result.

4) The ACA covers unauthorized immigrants and abortions.

The Affordable Care Act doesn't cover anything. It's not a government insurance program.

Obamacare bars unauthorized immigrants from purchasing insurance through the exchanges, and they cannot obtain Medicare or non-emergency Medicaid coverage. The law does allow them to get care at the emergency room, but that's no different from how things already work.

As for abortion coverage, the Affordable Care Act did not change the status quo. Federal funds can't be used to cover abortions unless it is a case of rape, incest or the mother's life is in danger. Insurance companies will retain their current ability to sell plans that cover abortions.

What about insurance sold on the state exchanges? Obamacare doesn't force insurers to cover abortions, but insurers can still offer it if they want to. Some states have banned abortion coverage, but Minnesota is not among them.

People buying insurance on the exchange may be eligible for federal subsidies. So, the law includes a mechanism to make sure those dollars aren't used to pay for abortion coverage.

5) The ACA is a "job-killer."

That claim is based on a mischaracterization of a Congressional Budget Office report that predicted upwards of 800,000 people, who keep their jobs just to get the health care coverage, would leave the workforce because they would now be able to find affordable insurance other ways - for instance, through the state insurance exchanges.

PoliGraph rated this claim misleading at best. Other fact-checkers, including FactCheck.org, have been less generous, calling such claims "health-care hooey."

Will employers cut jobs?

The health care law requires that businesses with 50 or more full-time employees (defined as working more than 30 hours a week) must provide health insurance. Opponents of the law say employers won't be able to afford to give all their workers coverage or will find the cost of their current insurance so onerous that they will be forced to lay people off.

But there's little evidence to back these claims up.

That said, some employers may decide to cut worker hours to avoid the employer mandate. According to a recent survey by the International Foundation for Employee Benefit Plans, 17.8 percent of Midwest businesses, including firms located in Minnesota, have or will cut hours because of the health care law requirements.

That's a small minority -- fewer than one in five employers.

At the same time, the demands of the Affordable Care Act are creating job openings. Counties in Minnesota are scrambling to find people for the added work the law creates.

The law is also expected to create demand for doctors and nurses because more people will have health insurance.

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