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Healthcare Reform: Myths and Misunderstandings

Federal efforts to enact healthcare reform have been short on information, leaving a void that has been filled with myths and misunderstandings.  Many of the provisions in reform proposals are not easily understood or explained in the mass media, which has resulted in confusion and frustration.  Stories have circulated that range from scare tactics to reasonable cause for concern.

To ensure that the community receives accurate information on healthcare reform below you’ll find some of the more common myths, along with accompanying truths, to clarify what the current healthcare reform proposals would actually do:

MYTH: “Death panels” will decide who gets healthcare; senior citizens will be evaluated every five years after age 65 to determine who receives care. Some rumors go so far as to say that seniors will be euthanized after age 90.

TRUTH: This myth probably comes from a proposed provision that requires Medicare coverage for advanced care planning (“living wills”) for beneficiaries who have not had one in years, or when there is a significant change in the health of an individual.  These voluntary consultations are (or should be) already occurring between doctors and patients.  They would not promote euthanasia, which is illegal in 48 states. The only change would be that the doctor would be compensated for the counseling sessions.

MYTH:  Healthcare reform, in particularly the public option government plan, will result in a government takeover of our healthcare system, or “socialized medicine.” 

TRUTH:  None of the proposals receiving serious consideration before call for a single-payer system, in which all healthcare coverage would be provided by the federal government.  Neither do they require that anyone choose the public option plan, or whatever alternative may be proposed.  The current health reform proposals call for a blended system, with options for coverage through a public program (Medicare, expanded Medicaid and SCHIP programs, or a public option) for those who qualify for and choose such a plan, and coverage through a private individual or employer-sponsored plan for those who want to keep their current coverage.  In fact, the proposed elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions should result in many more affordable public and private health coverage choices for consumers.

MYTH:  Healthcare reform will lead to “rationing” of healthcare, especially for those who are seriously ill. 

TRUTH:  In the current healthcare system, insurance companies decide who will be covered and which services they will pay for, mostly based on pre-existing conditions exclusions, benefit caps, and policy rescissions (retroactive cancellation of an insurance policy after an individual submits expensive claims). The new system would eliminate pre-existing condition exclusions and therefore should end the practice of rescinding coverage.  The result should be much less “rationing” than is currently occurring.  The elimination of pre-existing condition exclusions and lifetime caps—both of which are concerns in this community--will work in favor of the chronically ill and provide more coverage than is currently available.

MYTH:  If healthcare reform passes I won’t be able to continue to see my doctor or keep the health insurance I like.

TRUTH:  All of the proposals currently under consideration by Congress would allow people to keep their current health coverage if they choose.  Nothing in any proposal would restrict an individual’s choice of physician or hospital any more than they are restricted by managed care plans currently.  

Under some proposals, large group employers will be required to offer coverage to their employees. If they don’t, they will have to pay into a fund that will subsidize coverage for those who cannot afford it.  This should result in little change in the large employer group market.  Small group employers will be eligible to purchase coverage from the same exchanges, where those needing nongroup coverage can shop for a policy.  Those who currently are covered by a nongroup policy will have the choice of keeping the policy they have or purchasing one from an exchange.  All individual policies not sold by an exchange will be required to comply with individual policy requirements within five years, which will probably result in enhanced benefits.

Be Informed

We’ve listed here just a few of the myths being heard about healthcare reform.  The NHF Advocacy Staff is available to answer your questions. Contact Sally McCarty, NHF Insurance Consultant:; Johanna Gray, NHF Washington Representative:; Michelle Rice, NHF Regional Director:; or Ruthlyn Noel, NHF Manager of Public Policy:

Reliable information about healthcare reform also can be found on the following Web sites: 

For more information, visit these congressional committee Web sites:



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