'A government takeover of health care'

The core argument used by Republicans during their forceful attempt to derail the Democrats' health care law has been dubbed a whopping lie by the Pulitzer Prize-winning organization PolitiFact.

The phrase "government takeover of health care," coined by Republican strategist Frank Luntz early in 2009, was named "Lie of the Year" by the respected fact-checking website run by the St. Petersburg Times.

"Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections," PolitiFact explained Friday.

It proceeded to engulf the lexicon of the debate early as Congressional Republicans and conservatives waged a relentless campaign to convince the public the measure would give the government wholesale control of the health care industry.

"The phrase is simply not true," PolitiFact's editors concluded, clarifying that they were not commenting on whether the law was good policy. Yet in 2010 alone the words "government takeover" appeared 28 times in the Washington Post, 77 times by Politico, and 79 times on CNN.

After a year of grueling debate and accusations that Republicans were negotiating in bad faith, the measure eventually became law in March of 2010, by which point fears of too much government intrusion compelled Democrats to jettison the otherwise popular public insurance option.

The law, which relies solely on private insurance to expand coverage, comprises insurance regulations to cover pre-existing conditions, subsidies for the poor, and a mandate to ensure a broad risk pool.

The award reflects the power of disinformation, as the GOP claim was repeated ad nauseum -- often uncritically -- by lawmakers and public figures in Congressional testimonies, national speeches, television news shows, and mainstream newspapers.

Added PolitiFact: "But as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn't let facts get in the way of a great punchline. And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry."

So effective was the "lie" that it helped Republicans win back the House of Representatives by a large margin and make gains in the Senate during the 2010 midterm elections.

Last year's PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" was awarded to former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's claim that the health care law contained "death panels."