The Second Anniversary of President Hassan Rouhani’s Election: Fact-checking four of Rouhani’s claims

Hassan Rouhani appeared in front of a group of local and foreign reporters for the second anniversary of his presidential election to report on his government’s activities over the past year and to also answer questions from the press.

It was expected that he would talk about the progress made on specific promises that his government has made over the past two years. However, he only mentioned these promises in general terms, and focused more on what he called achievements in “the management of the sanctions.”

 

He used statistics and reports on Iran’s current economical situation to claim that the sanctions against Iran have been influential but not successful. He mentioned that his government has tried to fulfill its promises, saving Iran’s economy being one of them, and has been successful in managing the sanctions. He also spoke of the considerable reduction in hospitalization costs, providing eleven million people with health care services, and the new investments for water resources as examples of his government’s successes in managing the sanctions. 

In his evaluation of the government’s efforts regarding the social situation inside Iran, he talked about the reopening of House of Cinema, Iran’s largest professional organisation for film makers, Bureau of Political Parties and the increasingly active participation from student associations.

Previously, Rouhani Meter published a summary of the press conference held for the anniversary of the election. In the report that follows, each of Rouhani’s claims will be investigated in relation to official statistics and reports. Here we will specifically focus on the true or false nature of the remarks made by the president and his cabinet. After reviewing each comment we will label it as True, Mostly True, Mostly False, or False.

In some cases not having access to official statistics, makes the verification process difficult. For this reason we use the best documents and resources at our disposal to measure the accuracy of the president’s statements and his government in general. In addition, we sometimes seek opinions from experts in the field.

 

First Claim: reductions in the cost of hospitalization

On June 13th, in a press conference with local and international reporters, Hassan Rouhani claimed that the cost of hospitalization has dramatically decreased, from 37 percent to 4.5, over the past two years. Before Rouhani, the Deputy Minister of Health in his cabinet had made a similar claim.

 Eleven days before Rouhani’s press conference, on June 1st, Ahmad Aghajani, the Deputy Minister of Health and a member of the secretariat of the health sector development plan had announced that from May 2014, “ the amount of payment made by the patients in public hospitals for procedures that are covered by this programme has been reduced from 37 percent to 4.5 percent. People who are covered by a basic health insurance plan will only have to pay 6 percent of their overall medical bill.

However, the Deputy Minister of Health had mentioned an important issue that Rouhani did not talk about in his press conference. The fact that the programme for the reduction of hospitalization costs in public hospitals will only cover 7.5 million people during the first year. In the same press conference, He also announced that 9 million and 2 thousand people have been covered under the health insurance plan and 10 million from the marginalized populations around big cities have also been provided with health services.

A similar claim was made by Hamid Reza Safikhani, an expert in health insurance at the Ministry of Health, during the first conference for investigating ways for implementing medication insurance in Iran. He explained the new achievements through the health system reform and said “the government pays one third of the patient’s medical bills.” On May 22, 2015 he repeated the same statistics that Rouhani and his Deputy Minister had used in regards to reduction in payment amounts. He also mentioned that hospitalization costs have been reduced to 4.5 percent from 37 percent.

During a television interview, on May 2015, Health Minister Seyed Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi announced that “providing the government’s support package in the area of health is the reason for reduction of hospitalization costs.” He also mentioned that “the hospitalization costs has been reduced from 37 percent to 3 percent in rural areas and 6 percent in the cities.”

Some of the strategies employed by the Ministry of Health over the past two years are related to the demands of the supreme Leader, including the demand for a population growth policy. A Health Development Program has been implemented to respond to some of these demands.

The program for reducing hospitalization costs are under the Ministry of Health and Medical Education and part of a eight-part plan that has been applied in 557 hospitals since May 2014.

This June, an Iranian reporter writing in the Spanish newspaper El Paîs, mentioned the importance of this program, “this attempt in correcting the health coverage is an important internal achievement that can be compared to the nuclear negotiations in the international scale.”

The article claimed that the health plan is the most important social undertaking of Rouhani’s government and has turned the Minister of Health into the most liked member of Rouhani’s cabinet.

On May 2015, Alef website which is connected to the prominent MP Ahmad Tavakoli, challenged the Health Development Program, noting that the role of insurance as a mechanism for the management of health resources has been ignored and most funds are directly allocated, which can help the spread of corruption in the system.

Mehr News asked its audience to vote for the best and the worst undertaking of Rouhani’s government in the past two years. In terms of the promises related to health issues, a portion of the audience still demands free health care, but the rest are content with the current reduction in health costs. One user gave an example of his father “the cost of the operation and ten days of hospitalization  would have been ten million tomans in a private hospital, but it all cost four hundred and twenty tomans in a public hospital.” However, in the comments section of Alef website another user wrote, “If god forbid you ever actually have to visit a hospital, you will see that the Health Development Program is all just advertising.”

Before implementing the Health Development Program, Deputy Minister of Health Mohammad Haji Aghajani announced that the cost of hospitalization for patients has reached 40 percent, but through Health Development Program, with the aid of government subsidies and new funds, this cost will be reduced to 10 percent by the end of the year.

By implementing this program, and from the statistics that Rouhani and his cabinet have provided, it seems that his government has been successful in reducing hospitalization costs by 30 percent over one year.

 

Evaluating the first claim:

 

Despite criticisms from the opposition on the government’s Health Development Program, none of the institutions or officials have denied Rouhani’s claims. Yet, considering that Rouhani failed to mention that this plan has included only seven million people so far, it can be said that the claim about reduction in costs of hospitalization is mostly true.

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Second Claim: providing nine million people with health insurance

During Hassan Rouhani’s press conference for the second anniversary of his presidency, he spoke more about the government’s efforts to fulfill its presidential promises over the past 22 months. He claimed that the government has been trying to fulfill all the promises they have previously made.

He claimed that “nine million and two hundred thousand people have been covered under a health care plan”, and that “ten million people from the marginalized populations around the big cities have also been provided with health care services.”

According to article 29 of the constitution “everyone should be eligible to benefit from social security services including those under retirement and unemployment, and citizens who are of old age, suffer from disabilities, orphanage, homelessness, accidents, and those that generally need health services and medical care insurance, etc.” The same article emphasises that “the government has to provide every citizen with these services according to the law, through public funds and revenues from public participation.

Despite several attempts from different governments to cover the entire Iranian population under a health insurance plan, millions remain without access to these services. Previous to the eight-step plan for health and insurance development proposed by the Rouhani’s government, a health plan based on family doctors and a Health insurance plan in october 2012 were also tested.

Public health insurance was one of the promises made by Rouhani. He had repeatedly promised the public that his government will implement this plan. Signing up for this insurance started on April 22, 2014. At that time, it was said that the insurance plan is supposed to cover every person that does not have access to health insurance, a population estimated as between 6 to 10 million people.

Rouhani talked about the possibility of public health insurance coverage while his Health Minister, on February 2015, had spoke of the “insurance plans” as the major danger of the government’s Health Development Plan. He continued to say “if the support decreases or ceases to exist entirely, and the Statutory health insurance funds do not perform aggregation, this plan will be seriously damaged. Unfortunately some of the ceremonial formalities in governance has reached the medical sector as well.”

On May 20, 2014, only a few days after the start of the Health Development Program, Seyed Mahdi Mirshah Valad, A spokesman for the executive staff of public health insurance, announced that the number of people signing up to receive a health insurance booklet has exceeded 4 million.

In light of this information, how accurate is Rouhani’s claim for having covered 11 million and 200 thousand people under this plan?

Before Rouhani used these statistics, on April 9, 2015, the director of Iranian Health Insurance Organization, had announced that “since the beginning of the public health insurance program, over 8.5 million people have signed up and received their health insurance booklets.”

Anooshiravan Mohseni Bandpey, while mentioning the start of registration for Iranians without any health insurance coverage, had said “up to April 2015, 9.5 million people have signed up and 8.5 million of them now have their own health insurance booklet.”

Two months earlier, the Managing Director of health insurance had said “from the start of the Health Development Program up until now, 8 million people have been covered under the health insurance plan.”

The most recent report on the statistics of health insurance recipients was published June this year. On June 15th, Mohammad Javaad Kabir, the Managing Director of health insurance claimed “from the beginning of last year until now, 10 million and 900 thousand people have been covered under the public health insurance plan.”

 

Evaluating the seconds claim:

 

Statistics last published by the Health Insurance Organization of Iran, from related institutions in regards to the public health coverage, shows that Rouhani’s claim about the 9 million and 200 thousand coverage of the health insurance is true.

But this plan still faces serious criticism from the opposition groups. They question who is being covered under this plan, what percentage of the published statistics is actually related to people without any health insurance, and that what percentage of the country’s population is now covered under the health insurance plan.

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Third Claim: 11 million people are now covered under the Product Support Plan

In December 2013, Rouhani’s government, only a few months after starting work, approved a program of distributing packaged products in order to supports some segments of society. This non-cash aid includes 10 kg rice, 4 kg chicken, 2 bottles cooking oil, 2 packages cheese, and 24 eggs. The distribution of these packages started in February 2014.

Distributing commodity subsidies was amongst Rouhani’s presidential promises before the elections.

From the beginning, the 11th Government was against paying cash subsidies, which was prevalent in the previous government. A few months after starting work, the new government announced that it is going to phase out the cash subsidies and replace it with what they call “ Baskets of Goods” in order to support the more vulnerable parts of the society.

According to Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht, the government’s spokesman, cash subsidies will increase liquidity in the country. Therefore, commodity subsidies should be used in order to support the vulnerable segments of the population.

During February 2014, in time for the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, the government announced that the people eligible for the Baskets of Goods would be notified by text messages and those notified will then have to collect their baskets within a given timeline. This method of distribution caused discontent amongst the people.

Breakdown of the internet system and the overpopulated distribution centers during the cold winter caused a widespread outcry from the citizens. Since this plan does not apply to everyone, it received a lot of criticism from workers and pensioners that earn more than 500 Tomans per month and therefore do not qualify to receive this support.

 Considering that during that year the minimum wage was 487 Tomans, this group included a large number of people, who according to Fars News Agency, gathered in protest in front of the Department of Commerce at the Ministry of Industry.

 Employees and retired staff from government agencies, religious scholars, journalists, married students and families covered by the Relief Committee and Welfare will be covered under this plan.

While the Baskets of Goods were being distributed, ISNA News announced that “based on field reports, the methods of distribution for this plan have not been received well by the people.”

These criticisms reached a point where, Mohammad Bayatian, a member of the Board of Directors of the Industries and Mines Commission, claimed that “based on unofficial news, some ministers got close to resigning. 

After these complaints, Hassan Rouhani appeared in a television program and apologized for what he called “difficulties in the distribution of the commodity baskets.”

Until now, there have been several phases of distribution for the government’s Baskets of Goods, but there are no clear and overall statistics available to clarify the scale and scope of the project.

On June 1, 2015, Afshin Esmailifar, a faculty member at Azad Islamic University, Arak, announced that “It is crucial to edit the food security master plan.” He also mentioned that the commodity subsidy plan is very vulnerable and added that “If we accept that the most strategic food products right now are the ones that are widely consumed and are included in the commodity basket plan, then we have to accept that we are faced with a problem.”

He added that “an example of this vulnerability is the cooking oils that are included in these family baskets, 92% of these products are imported and only 8% is being produced within the country.”

Despite all this, on June 14, 2015, at the same time as the president’s press conference, Elham Aminzadeh, his legal assistant, provided statistics in relation to the commodity baskets that were contrary to what the president had used previously.

Aminzadeh spoke of resolving the society’s economical problems, balancing the use of water, providing 9 million people with public health care services, providing 400 thousand Mehr properties, distributing 10 million commodity subsidies and so forth as results of the twenty month efforts of Rouhani government.

Ali Rabii, Minister of Labour announced on March 5, 2015, the third phase of distribution for the commodity subsidies, that during this phase the Baskets of Goods will be distributed to 10 million people.

In that same month, his assistant had announced that according to Rouhani’s demand, through a five step process 11 million people covered under the Imam Khomeini and Behzisti welfare system will receive these baskets.

Confusion about the exact number of people who are eligible to receive these subsidies is happening at a time that real inflation, not just statistical inflation, is making life very difficult for people, especially the more vulnerable classes. The current situation with poverty and sanctions has reached such heights that even the mayor of the capital is voicing complaints. On June 13th this year, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf announced that “in Tehran, 200 thousand families are in need of daily food. 

In relation to the statistics used by Rouhani during the press conference for the anniversary of his presidential election, the fundamentalist website Rah e Dena wrote “these hopeful statistics might have some basis in terms of the calculation and statistical standards, but they do not match the realities of our society or to put it more simply, people’s pockets. People fully understand their own economical realities therefore can not pretend to be happy about these statistics. Since the rising inflation does not allow for the happiness caused by these numbers to disappear very quickly.”

 

Evaluating the third claim:

 

Apart from Rouhani, no one else from his cabinet has confirmed his claim that 11 million people have received the government’s commodity subsidies. The existing comments only point to 10 million people. Therefore we can not evaluate Rouhani’s claim as true, but since this plan is being implemented, we can accept that the claim about providing millions with commodity subsidies is mostly true.

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Fourth Claim: Student Organizations have an active presence

During a press release for the second anniversary of the elections on June 13, 2015, Rouhani talked about the internal changes over the past 22 months by mentioning “we can not say that nothing has changed over the past two years, student organizations now have an active role in social and cultural discussions and decisions. You only have to compare the 7th of December from two years ago to this year.” Rouhani was referring to Student Day in Iran, an annual commemoration of the killing of three students at a protest at Tehran University on December 7, 1953.

At the first Student’s Day ceremony in the eleventh government on December 7 2013, Polytechnique University, Tehran University, Ferdowsi University in Mashhad, Shahid Beheshti University, Shiraz Industrial University, and Nooshiravani University in Mazandaran saw minor student protests during which there was an emphasis on the president’s promises about “lifting the house arrest of the leaders of the green movement and releasing the political prisoners.”

The opening up of the oppressed atmosphere of universities was amongst Rouhani’s presidential promises. Two days before the elections in June 2013, amongst the people of Gorgan, He said that “in my government the youth will enjoy a much more open atmosphere in the universities. This government will welcome criticism from the students, and will create justice, freedom, economic and employment prosperity and better labour laws for workers.”

Previously, Rouhani had mentioned this promise and said “without a doubt, the youth and the students will experience a much more open climate in the universities during the new government.”

Student organizations were reborn during the eight years of Mohammad Khatami’s government but faced a dead end during Ahmadinejad’s administration. Many student groups and organizations were banned from continuing their work and some of the members were arrested, sentenced by the juridical and security system, and put in jail.

Based on Rouhani’s promises about supporting student activism in universities and creating a politically open atmosphere, people were led to believe that the previously oppressed student groups and organizations could resume their activities.

In June this year, Rouhani reiterated the claim of “active presence from student organizations” while speaking at a student event related to the events of the Student Day protests of December 7, 2014. He spoke of this issue while many of the major student activists were already in jail and some were arrested and put in jail during his government. Amongst them, Saeid Razavi Faghieh, a previous member of The Office for Consolidating Unity, one of the major organizations in Iran’s student movement, was arrested after a public talk in Hamadan, in March 2014.

Rouhani appeared in person during the Student Day ceremonies in order to “listen to student voices” and in this way renew his promise to the students.

 But according to Ali Afshari, one of the previous members of The Office for Consolidating Unity, during the ceremony, a large portion of the country’s students did not get the chance to speak out and voice their concerns in a direct way. Overall, the event did not have a natural flow. It was not entirely fake but was definitely very controlled.

In an analysis of this event, Afshari wrote that the Student Day ceremonies were “in general conventional and clinical. Rouhani’s words did not paint a bright picture of what the future of university students and faculty is going to be, neither did it provide a hopeful trajectory for overcoming the economic and other recent difficulties.”

According to this student activist, if Rouhani follows the same trajectory in the way he addresses the issues of the Student Day protests of 2014 in years to come, and does not try to remove the obstacles that are currently in the way of student movements, a break and rupture between the universities and the government will be inevitable.

The former student activists are not the only critiques of Rouhani’s claims and promises in regards to improving the student situation. A day after the press conference in June this year, Fars News Agency published an assessment of the activities of student organizations in the past 22 months, accusing the government of repeating past mistakes by “creating government sponsored student organizations”, and that the ministry of education is attempting to polarize the universities.

 In this essentially conservative analysis, the government is accused of “de-politicizing” the atmosphere in universities. According to the writer this trend has its roots in the Hashemi Rafsanjani’s government. 

In this article, Fars has also mentioned that the “parallel to the Ministry of Education’s attempt in creating a homogenized political atmosphere and silencing other voices that do not agree with the direction of the Ministry, it is also creating and sponsoring new student organizations to perpetuate the Ministry’s own views. These attempts have caused uproar amongst the students.”

 However, during the 22 months of Rouhani’s government, although there has not been a substantive change in attitude towards student activities, in contrast to previous years the university scene has been undergoing some major changes that had become close to impossible during the last years of the previous government.

One of the positive points in Rouhani’s record in relation to higher education is his insistence in the parliament for appointing a more reformist or moderate as the head of the Ministry of Education. In December 2014, Iran’s parliament after much opposition finally appointed Mohammad Farhadi, Rouhani’s 5th candidate as the head of the Ministry of Education.

 

Evaluating the Fourth claim:

Although it is true that the Student Day ceremonies of this year have been different from previous years, Rouhani’s claim about student organizations being more “active and present” does not match the reality of the current situation. It is true that some of the Islamic organizations have been able to resume their activities, but major student organizations and groups are still being oppressed and are unable to function. In addition to Tehran, student activists have been arrested and jailed during Rouhani’s government in other cities as well. Considering the current situation, and student activities being limited to only a few government events, Rouhani’s claim about “student organizations having an active presence” is mostly false.

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