Time for a PR checkup: Myths continue to plague health care debate

While the supposed "death panels" that would decide whether granny lives or dies have grabbed headlines recently, it seems that the public furor that they have generated may be the least of concerns for health care reformers. More troublesome for President Obama is the fact that a persistent majority of the public believes a raft of controversial assertions about reform that the White House has dismissed as "myths."

According to a recent survey, which polled 600 individuals in 48 states between August 14 and 18, 67 percent of Americans think that wait times for services such as surgery will increase under Obamacare. Such a result points to a staggering PR failure by reformers.
The White House has maintained that access to services won't change after the overhaul. If the President is to be taken at his word, most people will keep their current health plans following the change. Are doctors, surgeons, specialists, and others going to suddenly stop practicing after the reform, leading to deathly long waits? Unlikely.

In truth, wait times in the United States are already pretty long and getting longer. A recent study reported in USA Today finds it now takes an average of 8.6 days longer to see a primary care physician than it did in 2004. Boston has the longest wait, a ghastly 49.6 days.

In the meantime, another 46 percent of Americans (66 percent of Republicans, 29 percent of Democrats, and 43 percent of independents) believe that health care reform will result in coverage for all undocumented immigrants, says the survey conducted jointly by the Indiana University Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research and the Indiana University Center for Bioethics. Obama has been firm on this, saying that the current plan doesn't call for covering the estimated 6.8 million undocumented immigrants who lack insurance.

Critics of the plans being considered say that the programs wouldn't do enough to verify the eligibility of immigrants for care. Whatever the case, the fact that nearly half of the public believes that undocumented immigrants would get coverage is another sign that the reformers' PR machine needs a major tune-up.

The survey goes on to state that roughly 6 out of 10 Americans believe that taxpayers will be required to pay for abortions (79 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of Democrats, and 58 percent of Independents). Again, Obama has said "not true."

However, in this instance at least, it may not be that simple. According to a recent report in Time, one of the proposed programs -- the reform plan developed by House Democrats -- could end up having individuals who elected to participate in a government-run health option (if it survives) indirectly contribute to abortion coverage. However, this would only apply to Americans who opted to be covered in the so-called public option -- not every taxpayer.

"If the White House hopes to convince the majority of Americans that they are misinformed about health care, there is much work to be done," says Aaron Carroll, director of the Indiana University Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research. Talk about an understatement.

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