Gov. Jindal's Health Care Scare Tactics

July 20, 2009 11:14 am ET

On July 20, 2009, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) stepped back on to the national scene for the first time since his botched response to President Obama's address to Congress in February.  Writing in Politico, Gov. Jindal falsely declared, "it is a fact" that people won't be able to keep their current health coverage if a public option is included in health care reform.  As evidence, Gov. Jindal cited a previously debunked statistic from an insurance industry-funded study.

Gov Jindal: "It Is A Fact" That You Will Not Be Able To Keep Your Health Care

Gov. Jindal: "I know a little something about health care policy, and I can tell you exactly the game that is currently afoot. If the House Democrats' plan were to become law, the president's statement that 'if you like your health care now, you can keep it' will not be true. This is not an opinion, this is a fact.

"Businesses will, in effect, be forced to send employees into the Democrats' government-run health care. It's really not something to argue about, it is a fact. A private health insurance system, otherwise known as what we have today, will not be able to compete with a taxpayer-subsidized government plan, and businesses faced with growing health care costs will opt to either lay off more workers or send employees into the government plan." [Politico, 7/20/09; emphasis added]

Claims that the public option will put private insurers out of business have been debunked by multiple sources:

President Obama: "That's Not Logical" To Say That A Public Option Will Drive Private Insurers Out Of Business.  At a press conference on June 23, 2009, President Obama said: "Why would it drive private insurers out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government -- which they say can't run anything -- suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical." [Press Conference by the President, 6/23/09]

Los Angeles Times: Public Plans Already Compete With Private Plans And "Set A Benchmark" For Care. The Los Angeles Times said: "The federal government already provides health insurance to about 83 million Americans through Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs, including those offered by the military. Private insurers, meanwhile, face growing criticism for refusing to cover people with preexisting conditions and dropping coverage for sick customers. 'This is a benchmark that will set a high standard that private plans have to meet,' said Jacob Hacker, a political scientist at UC Berkeley who advocates a public option." [Los Angeles Times, 5/10/09]

New York Times: Fears Of A Public Plan Putting Private Plans Out Of Business Are "Overblown." According to the New York Times: "What many critics seem to fear most is that a new public plan would sweep away its private competitors and evolve over time into a full-fledged single-payer system (sometimes called Medicare for all). No matter how fair the competition between public and private plans might be at the start, they warn that the government would find it irresistible to rig the outcome through its regulatory and pricing powers and its ability, in a pinch, to subsidize the public plan with taxpayers' money. That fear seems overblown. Innovative, nimble private plans with well-integrated service systems might outperform any government plan, just as some now outperform Medicare through better coordination of services, stronger preventive care and broader benefits. A new public plan is neither the cornerstone of health care reform nor the death knell of private insurance. It should be tried as one element of comprehensive reform." [New York Times, 4/6/09; emphasis added]

Center For American Progress: Many States Run Public And Private Plans Alongside Each Other Successfully. According to the Center for American Progress: "Today, state governments (all of which regulate insurance companies) operate public Medicaid programs, purchase insurance for thousands of public employees, and regulate insurers. In fact, many states successfully offer their employees and retirees private health insurance plans side-by-side with these states' self-funded health insurance plans." [Center for American Progress, March 2009]

Economic Policy Institute: In Uncertain Economic Times, A Public Plan Is "Backup Insurance" For The United States' Largely Employer-Based Insurance System. According to the Economic Policy Institute: "Another reason that the health system needs a public health insurance option is that it serves as backup insurance for all Americans. While a majority of Americans are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, many do not have access. Even among full-time workers, 17% do not have insurance. Furthermore, many people lose coverage each year when they leave their jobs and then pick it up again at a later time, spending at least brief time periods without insurance. Aside from the risks of being uninsured, these individuals and families also must deal with the disruption of changing providers, and the lack of continuity in their care. Though employer-sponsored health insurance is the backbone of the American health insurance system, it is not an effective backstop particularly in this time of high unemployment. A public health insurance option would offer a plan Americans could depend on." [, 5/13/09]

Gov. Jindal Cited "119 Million" Figure From Lewin Group Study

Gov. Jindal: "One independent study already suggested that up to 119 million Americans will end up leaving their private plans for the public plan. To think otherwise requires one to suspend disbelief." [Politico, 7/20/09]

As Media Matters Action Network has previously noted, Republicans arrived at their "119 million" number by misrepresenting a study by the insurance industry-funded Lewin Group. 

The Lewin Group Is Funded By Health Insurance Giant UnitedHealth

The Lewin Group Is Owned By Ingenix.  NPR reported that "the Lewin Group, [is] a number-crunching consulting group owned by Ingenix, which is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group." [NPR, All Things Considered, 6/10/09]

  • UnitedHealth And Ingenix Used Skewed "Data To Under-Reimburse Its Own Policyholders." During testimony given during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing, John D. Rockefeller, IVA said: "Everywhere experts have looked at this data, they have found what statisticians call a 'downward skew' in the numbers. For ten years or even longer, this skewed data was used to stick consumers with billions of dollars that the insurance industry should have been paying. Ingenix markets two 'usual and customary' database products that every major payer in the health insurance industry used to calculate their reimbursement payments. Ingenix is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mr. Hemsley's company, UnitedHealth Group. UnitedHealth not only owns Ingenix, but it also used the skewed Ingenix data to under-reimburse its own policyholders." [, 3/31/09]

The GOP's Usage Of The Lewin Group's Study Has Been Soundly Debunked

NPR: Lewin Number Quoted "Hardly Represents The Entirety Of The Report."  According to NPR, the 119 million figure "hardly represents the entirety of the report [Lewin Group Vice President John] Sheils and colleague Randy Haught put out in April. The point of the study was to show that the number of people who would eventually join a government-sponsored public insurance plan would vary - dramatically - depending on how that plan is designed." [NPR, All Things Considered, 6/10/09]

Lewin Study Shows That If The Public Option Is Run Like Medicare, More Americans Will Opt Into It.  According to NPR: "If the public plan is open to everyone and pays health care providers rates similar to those paid by the government-run Medicare program, which are lower than most private insurers pay, 'you'd have a lower premium level and thus [more] people go into it,' says [Lewin Vice President] Sheils." [NPR, All Things Considered, 6/10/09]

Lewin Study Shows That As Few As 10.4 Million People Could Move To The Public Plan.  According to NPR, the Lewin Group's study shows that "if the public plan is limited to fewer people (perhaps only those in small businesses and individuals), or if the plan pays higher rates to doctors and hospitals, fewer people would join, both because fewer would be allowed and because the plan would be less financially attractive. According to the study, the number of people dropping private coverage could be as low as 10.4 million." [NPR, All Things Considered, 6/10/09]

Five Of The Six Options Lewin Studied "Are Less Aggressively" Priced And Would Cause Fewer Americans To Switch To The Public Plan.  NPR reported: "The study looked at six options, says [Lewin Vice President] Sheils. 'And five of those options are less aggressively priced than the Medicare payment level option,' meaning they would attract fewer enrollees to switch from private insurance coverage. Sheils stops short of saying that opponents of a public plan were misusing his statistics, because while 'this is the extreme case, I don't think it has been stricken from everyone's agenda, as far as I can tell.'" [NPR, All Things Considered, 6/10/09]

Lewin VP: Sen. Schumer's Plan Would Result In Only 10-12 Million People Moving To The Public Option.  According to NPR, Lewin Vice President Shiels "did add that in general, the mood in Congress seems to be moving toward a more constrained sort of public insurance program; most likely one that would pay somewhat more than Medicare and limit enrollment. For example, Sheils says, Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York 'has a plan which would require the public program to pay private payer rates - the same rates that other private insurers have to pay - and under that scenario we get only between 10 and 12 million people dropping private coverage.'" [NPR, All Things Considered, 6/10/09]