WASHINGTON — Don't believe everything you read. Or hear. Or are told about health care.
There's a lot of suspect information out there — from false claims about end-of-life decisions being taken over by the federal bureaucracy to incorrect e-mails saying everyone will be automatically enrolled in a new government health plan.
"There's been a lot of noise, and it's certainly made people wonder about what is being proposed because so much false information has been put out," said Brooks Jackson, director of FactCheck.org, a Web site dedicated to debunking (or backing up) political claims.
Meanwhile, there's a more substantial debate hanging fire over how much the plan pushed by President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats would cost, how it would be paid for and what the long-term impact on the quality of care and competition would be.
A Detroit Free Press analysis finds questionable claims on both sides.
On the Web site for his congressional campaign, Republican Paul Welday of Farmington, Mich., links to a list of what he calls "the shocking lowlights" of health-care reform legislation before Congress, describing in exacting, page-by-page detail bits of the majority Democrats' 1,018-page House bill.
On page 29, he says, the bill's authors admit health care will be rationed. On page 145, he finds employers must automatically enroll workers in a government-run insurance plan. On page 427, "government dictates how your life ends."
None of his claims are true.
Welday defends the list as justifiable interpretations of the legislation, the opening shots of a debate quickly consuming the country.
And there's much to debate, like the cost to taxpayers, whether a government plan will hurt private insurers and whether it will cost businesses more. But much of the public conversation has been geared to spreading sound bites of dubious claims.
"When they get into the over-the-top stuff, it's easy to point out that stuff is not true," said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow on health-care issues at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington and a critic of the Democrats' reform efforts. "There's a certain amount of hysteria out there among opponents, and flat-out disingenuousness among proponents."
Democrats and Obama have yet to convince skeptics that reform will lower health-care spending. An analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the initial House bill would add $239 billion to the deficit over a decade's time.
And Obama's claims that people will be able to keep the health coverage they have now glosses over the vast changes the market would undergo if the federal government dictated minimum levels of coverage and cost-containment in Medicare and created its own public plan that, by one estimate, could move 83 million people out of private insurance.
A Free Press analysis of Welday's "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You" list found several inaccuracies.
For instance, it says page 50 of the bill provides that "All non-US citizens, illegal or not, will be provided with free health care services." Actually, that page of the bill prohibits discrimination in health care. And in Section 246 — on page 143 — federal health care payments for people in the country illegally are explicitly prohibited.
Another claim is that businesses that didn't offer the public plan would have to pay a penalty — as much as 8 percent of payroll. What the newspaper found: Larger businesses would pay that penalty only if they do not offer their own insurance plans.
One claim that has resonated with many seniors is that the legislation requires "advance care planning consultations" in which doctors would have to talk to their elderly patients about end-of-life care, living wills and their wishes for terminating care in certain circumstances. According to the Welday list, page 430 says government "will decide what level of treatments you may have at end of life."
But it doesn't. The legislation doesn't require advance care planning consultations. It allows Social Security to pay for one — if the patient wants.