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Unhealthy lies and the truth about health care reform

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For weeks, health insurance companies, Republican political operatives and politicians, and their media cheerleaders have thrown a thick blanket of lies over the national debate of health care reform. By now you've heard the one about how Obama is going to pull the plug on your granny. Maybe you also heard that illegal immigrants would soon be enjoying free health care on your dime. Or that new health care policies would be a bonanza for abortion clinics.

Most of the screamers we've seen at health care town hall meetings are obviously, at best, very uninformed about details of proposed reforms. What you may not know is that those uninformed views are largely the result of a deliberate, cynical campaign of outright, blatant dishonesty the likes of which this reporter hasn't seen in nearly 40 years of following politics. Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein summed up the risk the GOP is taking with its current tactics: "By poisoning the political well, they've given up any pretense of being the loyal opposition. They've become political terrorists, willing to say or do anything to prevent the country from reaching a consensus on one of its most serious domestic problems."

Anti-reform B.S. has piled up so deeply, even congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon told reporter Michelle Goldberg, "You hear them repeat it enough and you just wonder what's going on. Do they have somebody crank out the talking points for them, and they're so marinated in them that they can't separate truth from fiction? Or is it that truth has become such a relative term that it no longer makes a difference?"

Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina has been at the forefront of opposition to health care reform, particularly the idea of giving consumers the choice of a public option. BCBSNC's CEO, Bob Greczyn even declared health care reform "un-American." In an ironic twist, BCBSNC also announced, "We believe a government-run plan would lower payment to doctors." Why is that ironic? This is the same BCBSNC that lost a $128 million lawsuit for fraudulently underpaying doctors.

N.C. politicians are getting in on the act, too. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory piped up, signed on with Americans for Prosperity, and gave speeches denouncing health care reform as a "federal government takeover" -- even though bills being considered rely on private insurance companies to provide coverage. The director of Americans for Prosperity, by the way, is Art Pope, a longtime, multi-millionaire GOP supporter who gave so much money to the state party, they named their Raleigh office building after him. And let's not forget the always, um, interesting Rep. Virginia Foxx of N.C.'s 5th District, who jumped on Sean Hannity's "creeping euthanasia" bandwagon by proclaiming that health care reform plans would "put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government" -- thus beating Sarah Palin's "death panels" comment to the finish line of the Biggest Liar contest.

The wild accusations currently being spread by reform opponents would be funny if health care reform wasn't such a critical issue, or if the charges weren't such brazen lies. So, you're wondering, what's really in the plans being considered? Here's a quick summary (keep in mind that the language of a final bill hasn't been hammered out yet):

The focus of all the plans being considered is a health insurance exchange, initiated by the government, in which consumers, small businesses and, eventually, large businesses will be able to buy insurance from private insurers at lower rates than are now available. New rules will require insurers to offer coverage to anyone regardless of health condition. Lower-income workers who buy insurance through the exchange -- along with their employers -- would qualify for government subsidies. Under any of the plans being considered, the vast majority of Americans who aren't poor or old will keep on buying health insurance from private companies, continue to get their health care from doctors in private practice, and will still be treated at privately owned hospitals. And that, in a nutshell, is it. Not exactly the evil, satanic, communistic, abortion-encouraging, Orwellian nightmare health system you've been hearing about, huh?

Today's exaggerators (yes, I'm being kind) have a precedent. In the 1960s, a fellow named Ronald Reagan scared audiences by famously saying, "[I]f you don't [stop Medicare], one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it once was like in America when men were free." Since then, the rhetoric hasn't changed, it's just gotten worse.

Here, then, is a guide to the most widespread lies about health care reform, and the truth about each statement.

The Lie: Health care reform will bring government-mandated euthanasia. As part of the plan, every five years, people enrolled in Medicare will be required to go through a counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.

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