A laurel to Politifact Florida

Site pushes back against misinformation about Obamacare and small business

Our run of Swing States Project praise continues with a laurel to Politifact Florida, where reporters Tia Mitchell, Katie Sanders, and Jeffrey S. Solochek teamed up earlier this week on an item that effectively pushed back against some misinformation about the new healthcare law.

The trio report that on several occasions on June 29, Florida Gov. Rick Scott told a story about a small business owner who had told him he feared being forced out of business by the new employer mandate. As Scott relayed the exchange during an interview on Fox News, the man said that if the law goes into effect, “we’re out of business. We have 20 employees. We know we won’t be able to buy any healthcare for anybody.”

Scott relayed this tale as part of a broader attack on Obamacare. But the problem with the story, as the Politifact reporters explained, is that these particular fears are misplaced. Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees are not required by the law to offer coverage, and don’t face fines if they choose not to do so. And many businesses with fewer than 25 employees are actually eligible for substantial tax credits if they do decide to offer health insurance to their workers. As Slate’s Matthew Yglesias recently wrote, these provisions are closer to giveaways than burdens for the smallest businesses.

Given how uninformed much of the public is about Obamacare, it’s little surprise the business owner didn’t know these facts. But Scott, who’s built his political profile around opposition to the law, has no excuse for repeating such claims, and he deserves the “Pants on Fire” label the Politifact team sticks him with.

The reporters also went the extra step of tracking down the business owner whom Scott was likely citing, a Tallahassee Dairy Queen proprietor named Jamshaid Mohyuddin. They got this nice kicker for their effort:

Mohyuddin was elated when a reporter told him that the law exempts him from penalties for not offering health insurance.

“That helps me a lot,” Mohyuddin said. “I always thought I had to do this.”

One final note: as mentioned above, Scott told the story several times on that day. Tampa Bay Times reporter Michael Van Sickler was in the crowd at a speech in Tampa, and he did a good job pushing back against the false claim even as he relayed Scott’s critique of the healthcare law. Based on the governor’s description of the business, Van Sickler wrote, “Scott seems to be confused. Under the law, companies with fewer than 50 employees are not required to provide health insurance, nor are they subject to fines.” By contrast, when Scott trotted out the line during that Fox News interview, host Greta van Susteren, who otherwise did a decent job, missed a chance to correct him.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett and Greg Marx are CJR staff writers and co-editors of The Swing States Project.