PI Original Angela Caputo Tuesday August 25th, 2009, 5:25pm

Kirk's Town Hall Health Care Myths

At a town hall meeting last night, Rep. Mark Kirk once again resorted to using stale facts and bogus figures to diminish the urgency of overhauling the nation's ailing health care system.

Rep. Mark Kirk has repeatedly resorted to using stale facts and bogus figures to diminish the urgency of overhauling the nation's ailing health care system. Last night he hosted back-to-back town hall meetings in Arlington Heights and didn't tone down the rhetoric one bit. Unfortunately for voters in the 10th District, newspaper and TV reporters devoted more attention to the amicable crowds than the GOP Senate hopeful's misleading claims. Let's pick through a few of them:

Kirk Myth: The only portion of the 46 million uninsured Americans that need additional government assistance are the "long-term, lower-income" uninsured -- 7.8 million in total.

Fact: Kirk arrives at the 7.8 million figure by factoring out the following uninsured populations: 12 million people currently eligible for public health programs; 7.3 million families who can afford coverage but opt out; 9.5 million undocumented residents; and the 9.1 million temporarily uninsured. (Watch him "break down" these figures on the House floor.)

Not surprisingly, the situation is much more complex and concerning than Kirk lets on.  In a Sunday editorial, the New York Times rebutted such efforts by Republicans to downplay the number of uninsured.  For instance, they point out that the high-income "households" in question are often groups of low-wage roommates or extended families living together.  The editorial also notes that as many as 25 million Americans are under-insured, meaning they have "woefully inadequate policies with high deductibles and restrictions that stuck them with large amounts of uncovered expenses."  Read their whole analysis here.

Kirk Myth: Under President Obama's proposal, $160 billion will be cut from the Medicare program, which would reduce coverage and hike premiums for Illinois seniors, including 2,731 in the 10th District alone.

Fact: The AARP rebuts this claim, noting that "none of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services ...  Rather than weaken Medicare, health care reform will strengthen the financial status of the Medicare program."  The Republican claim originates from Obama's proposal to end the large public subsidies to the private insurance companies who participate in Medicare.  More on that issue here.

Kirk Myth: Tort reform and large insurance pools -- key tenants of his own health care proposal --  have lowered health insurance costs in California to $2,565 per patient, as opposed to $5,326 in New Jersey.

Fact: As we've noted, Kirk's figures are out of date. Last year, Families USA found that the average premiums in California hovered around $4,282, while the average cost of individual health coverage in New Jersey was $4,744.

Kirk's constituents came out last night to learn about the health care reform bills that are on the table. Instead, they got fed a misleading narrative about seniors losing health care while the working class foot the bill for folks who don't need their help in the first place.  A raw deal, to say the least.


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