Politifact’s “Lie of the Year”

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It says something about the success of a misinformation campaign when it’s called out for official recognition two years in a row. Politifact, the independent fact-checking web site associated with the St. Petersburg Times, named “death panels” it’s “Lie of the Year” in 2009. This year’s winner: “government takeover of health care.”

Correctly pointing out that the phrase was promoted early on by Republican wordsmith strategist Frank Luntz, Politifact writes today that, “as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn’t let facts get in the way of a great punchline. And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry.”

Asserting that, “PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy” the organization lists the reasons that “government takeover” earned top billing for dishonesty this year.

* Employers will continue to provide health insurance to the majority of Americans through private insurance companies.

* Contrary to the claim, more people will get private health coverage. The law sets up “exchanges” where private insurers will compete to provide coverage to people who don’t have it.

* The government will not seize control of hospitals or nationalize doctors.

* The law does not include the public option, a government-run insurance plan that would have competed with private insurers.

* The law gives tax credits to people who have difficulty affording insurance, so they can buy their coverage from private providers on the exchange. But here too, the approach relies on a free market with regulations, not socialized medicine.

I would add one more: The government already accounts for half of all spending in the American medical system. Even without the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would have accounted for 52% of all U.S. health spending by 2012. That share would have grown, even without the huge overhaul Democrats pushed through Congress earlier this year, with baby boomers are already aging into Medicare.

Republicans aren’t solely to blame for the fact that “government takeover of health care” was burned into Americans brains over the past year. The news media had something to do with it also.