CEPR - Center for Economic and Policy Research


En Español

Em Português

Other Languages

Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press AP's "Fact Check" Distorts the Fundamentals of a Republican Plan to Reshape Medicare

AP's "Fact Check" Distorts the Fundamentals of a Republican Plan to Reshape Medicare

Thursday, 02 June 2011 08:38

Major news outlets like to adhere to the pretext that the truth in any political argument always lies in the middle. This means that they feel the need to say that the truth in the current battles over the budget and Medicare lies somewhere between the Democratic and Republican positions.

In the past this practice meant, for example, that most of these news organizations said things like the truth on civil rights was somewhere between the positions put forward by people like Martin Luther King and segregationists like George Wallace. Many might think the truth does not always lie between the positions set out by the major actors in national political debates.

In keeping to this "truth lies in the middle" approach, AP's Fact Check criticized Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, for attacking Representative Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare, which was adopted by the Republican House. Fact Check criticizes Wasserman for:

"falsely accusing the GOP of pushing a proposal that tells the elderly 'you’re on your own' with health care and that lets insurers deny coverage to the sick."

Fact Check goes on to quote Wasserman as saying about the Ryan plan:

"'You know what, you’re on your own. Go and find private health insurance in the health care insurance market; we’re going to throw you to the wolves and allow insurance companies to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions. We’re going to give you X amount of dollars, and you figure it out.'"

It then tells readers:

"THE FACTS: First, the Ryan plan explicitly forbids insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone who qualifies for Medicare, including those who have pre-existing illnesses. Second, it does not merely send money to the elderly and leave them to their own devices in arranging for medical care.

"The plan calls for Medicare to stay the same for people 55 and older. But starting in 2022, new beneficiaries would get their health insurance from competing private insurers instead of from the government. The government would offer subsidies to pay for the coverage and set standards that insurers must follow. One condition, says the plan, is that participating insurers “agree to offer insurance to all Medicare beneficiaries, to avoid cherry-picking and ensure that Medicare’s sickest and highest-cost beneficiaries receive coverage.”

"Nor would the government merely send 'X amount of dollars' to the elderly and let them figure out whether they can afford coverage. The subsidies would go to the plan selected by the beneficiary."

While Fact Check is correct on the treatment of pre-existing conditions, it is wrong to imply that the Ryan plan in any way guarantees coverage. According to the Congressional Budget Office's (CBO) projections, the cost of a Medicare equivalent plan for a person at age 65 would be equal to 44 percent of the median person's income by 2030. It would have risen to 68 percent of the median 65-year old's income by 2050. (This ignores the fact that the plan increases the age of eligibility to 67 by 2046. )

Health care costs are higher for older retirees. CBO's projections imply that by 2050 the cost of a Medicare equivalent plan for someone age 75 would be 143 percent of the median 75-year-old's income and 200 percent of the median 85-year-old's income. Given the huge gap between the cost of care and the ability of seniors to pay it is wrong to imply, as Fact Check does, that the Ryan plan in any way ensures that seniors will get decent coverage. As Wasserman claimed, if the Ryan subsidy is insufficient to pay for care, the plan tells seniors that they are on their own.

The truth does not always lie in the middle. Fact Check would have known this if it had bothered to analyze the CBO projections before criticizing Representative Wasserman.

Comments (7)Add Comment
AP is one reason the main stream media has a bad reputation.
written by denim, June 02, 2011 10:07
Have you noticed that the best media have blogs a reader comment directly below a story? How many have you seen below AP or CNN stuff, just to name two? They do not want to hear your complaint or have others learn of their misrepresentations right below their work of fabrication.
The way I generally describe...
written by Rich Gardner, June 02, 2011 10:42
how these traditional media guys approach these left/right disputes is that during the 1840s, there were three positions on slavery. There was the conservative point of view that said "Leave our 'peculiar institution' alone." There was the middle-of-the-road position "Slaveowners should be nicer to their slaves than the owners in Uncle Tom's Cabin were"(Government regulation of slavery wouldn't have been advocated until the Muckraker Era). Far-left radicals said "Slavery is morally wrong. It should be ended, immediately and without conditions."
Now, are the lefties always correct? Of course not. During the Progressive Era in the early 1900s, Progressives insisted that areas where drunkards liked to congregate like the Bowery should be closed down. Problem: Some drunks just like being drunk and will not be reformed. Take away the Bowery and they have no safe place to drink.
Conclusion: There is no magic bullet! There is no universal answer. No one is always right. Each case has to be considered on its own merits. Anything else is lazy and is a grasping for easy answers.
written by joe, June 02, 2011 11:15
"Ryan plan explicitly forbids insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone who qualifies for Medicare"

That's a ridiculous claim. If the senior can not afford the premium, then the senior is denied coverage. The Ryan plan reduces govt spending because the subsidy is inadequate. They peg the subsidy to the CPI so that medicare is slowly drowned in the bath tub as Grover Norquist requested.
AP puzzled by unemployed workers...
written by Anthony, June 02, 2011 11:47
The AP has another strange article today on the shrinking labour force--and the fact that (mostly unnamed) economists are puzzled by the decline in the face of apparent economic recovery. Thought you'd be interested, Dean.

Here's the link: http://is.gd/lS0wsl

written by S.D. Jeffries, June 02, 2011 5:22
The only thing Ryan's proposal for Medicare has in common with the current program is the name. The fact that Ryan's proposal appropriates the name of the current program is enough to brand his proposal dishonest. Just because a pig is dressed up like a prom queen doesn't mean it's anything other than a pig and won't fool anyone but those who insist on being foolish.
If the truth is in the middle...
written by Bill H, June 03, 2011 9:39
...then what shape is the Earth? One side claims it is flat, the other side claims it is a globe. Halfway between those two is, um... "Major news outlets" might have trouble writing that story.
written by bg, June 04, 2011 7:28
AP - has had less credibiliity than Geithner, Simpson-Bowles & Larry Summers for quite a while. They should just change their name to Apopleptic Public Relations. Their "news reporting" is too rare these days is laughable. It's too bad that we don't have a consortium of J schools that can at least "de-certify" news outlets as a warning to their graduates & the public that an outlet spends too much time with the White Rabbit.

Write comment

(Only one link allowed per comment)

This content has been locked. You can no longer post any comments.


Support this blog, donate
Combined Federal Campaign #79613

About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.