Franken: 'There are no death panels'

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) waded into an old partisan debate Monday when he wrote that skeptics of the 2010 healthcare law might simply not have the right facts. 

"I ask the American people not to fall victim to disinformation. There are no death panels. The Affordable Care Act cuts the deficit," the first-term senator wrote in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

A study by Medicare trustee and conservative economist Charles Blahous reignited the debate over the law's total cost in early April when it concluded that the law would add at least $340 billion to the deficit. 

The study by contradicted estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimated initially that the law would cut the deficit by about $132 billion.

Conservatives have also voiced concerns that the law will burden small businesses — something Franken denied.

"Under this law, businesses with less than 50 employees don’t have to provide insurance for their employees and won’t suffer penalties if they don’t. They won’t have to pay fines or be dragged into prison," Franken wrote.

Now two years old, the healthcare law remains a major rallying point for Republicans of all stripes, especially as the Supreme Court prepares to issue a decision on it this summer.

The term "death panel" was first used in 2009 by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to refer to a portion of the law that she believed would ration care for the elderly and the disabled. It was declared "Lie of the Year" by Politifact, a nonpartisan group.

"Of all the falsehoods and distortions in the political discourse this year, one stood out from the rest," the group wrote. "Opponents of health care legislation said it revealed the real goals of the Democratic proposals. Advocates for health reform said it showed the depths to which their opponents would sink.

"Still others scratched their heads and said, 'Death panels? Really?' "

Franken, on Monday, touted the law's "tremendous" benefits.

He highlighted a provision he contributed on the "medical loss ratio" mandating that insurers use 80 to 85 percent of their premiums on patient care rather than administrative costs.

"We’ve already heard that the medical loss ratio is working — plans are already lowering premiums in order to comply with the law," he wrote, citing an insurer in Connecticut that lowered its premiums an average of 10 percent to comply.