SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois legislative candidate has a video hit on her hands with a humorous critique of President Barack Obama's overhaul of the national health care system. The video, with its digs at the president's smoking and the Treasury secretary's known tax problems, has gotten more than 1.4 million views on YouTube.
While clearly lighthearted, the video makes some factual claims that deserve a closer look.
Here's what state Senate candidate Barbara Bellar, a Burr Ridge Republican and a doctor, says:
"So, let me get this straight – this is a long sentence – we're going to be gifted with a health care plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don't, which purportedly covers at least 10 million more people without adding a single new doctor but provides for 16,000 new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn't understand it, passed by a congress that didn't read it but exempted themselves from it and signed by a president who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn't pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take effect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a surgeon general who is obese and financed by a country that's broke.
"So what the blank could possibly go wrong?"
Bellar isn't claiming credit for writing the list of complaints, which has been floating around the Internet for a couple of years. Nor is she vouching for every single word. She didn't even know she was being recorded when she read it at a gathering of Mitt Romney supporters.
But when someone posted it on YouTube, the video struck a chord with "Obamacare" skeptics.
Here's more information on the substantial issues it raises.
• Forced to purchase, fined if we don't
Health care experts say this is correct in a very limited sense.
The vast majority of people who already have health insurance will not see any change. They aren't forced to buy anything new. But people who can afford insurance and choose not to buy it will have to get health insurance or pay a tax.
So the video's claim is "true to some degree," said David Howard, who teaches at Emory University's Department of Health Policy and Management.
• 10 million more people, no new doctors
First, the 10 million figure is wrong. The Affordable Care Act is expected to help more than 30 million uninsured people get coverage.
It's also wrong to think of those 30 million people as a brand-new burden on the health care system, said Timothy Jost, an expert on health law at Washington and Lee University. They get some care now, but it's often through expensive visits to the emergency room and the cost is borne by other people.
The health overhaul does include new doctors. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates it will add 15,000 new providers by 2015. Doctors who go into primary care will get larger Medicare payments. And the 2009 economic stimulus package included $300 million to recruit doctors for underserved areas, the foundation says.
Still, expanding coverage will put some new demands on the health care system.
Jeff Goldsmith, president of the consulting firm Health Futures Inc., predicts lots of doctors will retire and lines will lengthen at emergency rooms and doctors' offices as people seek more care.
• 16,000 IRS agents
Nope. Factcheck.org calls this claim "wildly inaccurate."
The number apparently comes from critics taking the highest possible estimate for the budget increase the IRS might need. Then the critics assumed every penny of that would go to salaries for IRS personnel, producing a figure of 16,500 new employees. Then some people began calling all those employees "agents," overlooking any need for auditors, secretaries, computer programmers and other types of staff.
Finally, the health care law bars criminal penalties, liens and levies against people who don't pay the related tax.
• Committee chairman doesn't understand.
What Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said was that he hadn't read the actual legislation because it was written in technical language that he and most other senators wouldn't be able to understand. He did not say he didn't understand the way the law works.
Goldsmith was disappointed that Baucus didn't wade through the bill himself.
"The bill is enormous, but it certainly isn't a good thing if the chairman of the committee hasn't read the bill," he said. "I read the bill twice."
• Congress exempted.
Actually, members of Congress are specifically required to buy their insurance through the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. They did the opposite of exempting themselves.
• Four years of taxes before any benefits
Some taxes have kicked in already and so have some benefits. The key taxes and benefits that inspire so much debate both come in 2014.
Taxes taking effect before 2014 affect groups such as drug makers, manufacturers of medical devices, couples earning over $250,000 a year and indoor tanners, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The pre-2014 benefits include letting people stay on their parents' insurance plan until age 26 and giving tax credits to some small businesses. Senior citizens are getting money to fill the "doughnut hole," a gap in their Medicare drug coverage. Coverage is available for people denied normal health insurance because of pre-existing conditions.
Howard said such changes are "pretty small potatoes" compared to the larger overhaul coming later. Goldsmith said they were basically regulatory changes.
Jost, however, considers them a very big deal.
"Millions of Americans have received benefits under this law," he said.
— Bellar video: http://bit.ly/UmuQBF
— Kaiser Family Foundation: http://healthreform.kff.org
— White House site on health care law: http://www.healthcare.gov
Follow Christopher Wills at http://twitter.com/chrisbwills