Health Uncategorized

Vaccinating the Public Against Health Care Misinformation

by Lisa Bennett, NOW Communications Director

A factually-challenged email is making the rounds, scaring people into thinking that Medicare premiums are going to start rising next year due to provisions in the 2010 health care reform law. My well-meaning aunt forwarded this email to friends and family, not wanting them to get caught off guard when their rates went up.

Having worked quite intently during the past several years at NOW to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, I was immediately concerned about this news. The use of the term “Obamacare” instead of the law’s actual name — the Affordable Care Act — was a major clue that this message might be less than truthful. An intrepid NOW intern quickly found information on the AARP website debunking the email, which apparently has been infecting inboxes since prior to the 2010 elections.

AARP explains: “The official formula for determining Part B premiums was established by Congress decades ago. . . . This process is in no way affected by the new health care law . . . The law does, however, contain provisions to reduce the rate of Medicare costs over time (without reducing guaranteed benefits), and if this plays out as planned, it could hold Part B premiums down or possibly even lower them.”

I forwarded this information to my aunt and everyone else on her list. But “urban legend” emails like this are hard to extinguish. No doubt, someone else is opening this email right now and is likely to spread its misinformation. The email urges recipients to “send this to all seniors that you know, so they will know who’s throwing them under the bus,” and it ends with this plea: “Remember this in November 2012 and vote.”

NOW agrees that health care access should be a major issue for voters. But voters must be equipped with accurate information. Millions of seniors rely on the affordability of Medicare, particularly women, who are paid less throughout their careers and often spend long periods out of the paid workforce taking care of children and other family members — meaning they retire with little savings to fall back on. Women of color, in fact, often retire with zero or negative wealth. The cost of Medicare is paramount to these women. Preying on this vulnerability to deceive and win votes is shameful.

When my aunt received my reply, she thanked me for relaying the truth. But she also added: “With D.C. the way it is, most of us do not trust anyone in government.” This is a real problem. A large majority of people in the United States — regardless of whether they identify themselves as liberal, conservative or independent — stand to lose if representatives of big business and the wealthy get their way. Right-wing attacks on the Affordable Care Act aren’t about protecting everyday Janes and Joes by expanding access to health care and making it more affordable. They are about making sure health care delivery remains a private enterprise that prioritizes profits over actually making people healthier.

Luckily, there are leaders who want the people of this country to be able to get the health care they need, including free preventive services for women, including mammograms and birth control, with no co-pays. The Affordable Care Act achieves these goals. Electing leaders who promise to repeal health care reform is a vote against good health care and economic security.

This post is part of the #HERvotes blog carnival on health care.

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