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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The New York Times Doesn't Like Medicare

The New York Times Doesn't Like Medicare

Thursday, 14 July 2011 04:46

That's what readers of the NYT's box on "issues holding up debt ceiling agreement" would conclude. The box tells readers that:

"Officials have said that the program, which provides health care to people 65 and older, is not sustainable in its current form."

This is not true. There is no, as in zero, none, official document that says the program is not sustainable in its current form. There are official documents that show the program will need additional revenue at some point. The ACA passed by Congress last year reduced the projected shortfall in the program by more than 75 percent.

As it stands, the projected shortfall over the program's 75-year planning horizon is less than 0.4 percent of GDP. This is less than one quarter of the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Comments (10)Add Comment
written by Jim in Panama, July 14, 2011 8:42
Interesting point. So, if we were to kill the whole Medicare program we could shave 25% off the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or we could use the saving to start another war while maintaining the other two. Medicare is actually a national security threat
written by kharris, July 14, 2011 10:31
"Officials have said" is not the same as "official documents indicate". "Officials" is a pretty vague term, and certainly some "official", defined in some non-obnoxious way, has called Medicare unsustainable. If you held yourself to the same standard that you urge on the press, you would not attempt to conflate "officials" with "official documents" and would admit that some "officials" have said just what the NYT claims.

The problem is that the NYT is relying on the least common denominator of journamalism - the fact that somebody somewhere can be found to have held a position. The facts are as you state them. The NYT should be in the business of stating facts, when facts are available.
written by joe, July 14, 2011 12:03
kharris, the official may have said "the program is not sustainable in its current form" but the claim is contradicted by the official documents so the claim is false.

The word this in "This is not true" refers to the claim, not whether the official made the claim.
written by kharris, July 14, 2011 2:25
As a life-long, native speaker of English and once-upon-a-time college-level writing teacher with no ax to grind, I will say flatly that what you wrote in the initial post is not what you claim to have written in your response to me. If what you had written was written in a way to mean that official documents do not show Medicare to be unsustainable, I would have been able to read that from your text. What I read in your text is a claim that "officials" have not made the claim that the Times claim they have made. The Times is write. You, consequently, are wrong. You are also a good enough writer that you should not have to fall back on dubious claims of ambiguity to justify what you've written. There's a strong sense here that you are calling the kettle black.
written by kharris, July 14, 2011 2:34
The Times is "right" not "write". So much for claims to authority.
Let the officials speak for themselves
written by AndrewDover, July 14, 2011 10:57
The Medicare and Social Security trustees wrote:

"Projected long-run program costs for both Medicare and Social Security are not sustainable under currently scheduled financing, and will require legislative corrections if disruptive consequences for beneficiaries and taxpayers are to be avoided."

Specifically they said: "The projected date of HI Trust Fund exhaustion is 2024, five years earlier than estimated in last year’s report, at which time dedicated revenues would be sufficient to pay 90 percent of HI costs."

"For the sixth consecutive year, a "Medicare funding warning" is being triggered, signaling that projected non-dedicated sources of revenues -- primarily general revenues -- will soon account for more than 45 percent of Medicare’s outlays."


It is quite reasonable to say that "officials said Medicare is not sustainable in its current form".
Politics of the English Language
written by Michael Powe, July 15, 2011 10:01
Let me point out to the self-proclaimed "college-level writing teacher" that his dogmatic assessment of the blog entry is categorically false.

The original statement: "This is not true. There is no, as in zero, none, official document that says the program is not sustainable in its current form."

I don't even need to be a "college-level writing teacher" to parse those two sentences correctly. I certainly had no problem with it. And I've written for publication and edited organizational newsletters, in addition to doing a stint as an ESL tutor. Perhaps, it would be sufficient to say that reading and writing are two different skills.

The NYT has long carried water for DLC-types within the Democratic Party. The misinformation about the problems of Medicare is just another example. Readers need to maintain a bit of caveat emptor and look for sources on every such generalization. "People say" is a poor arbiter of truth, always.
written by Bradley Eardley, July 15, 2011 11:34
To Andrew Dover's comment...
You're correct that that statement about sustainability was made. However, when they say it is not sustainable, this is what they mean:
-With current setup, Trust Fund is spent by 2036. Thereafter, Social Security taxes would pay 75% of current benefits through 2085.
- With current setup, Trust Fund is spent by 2024. At that point, Medicare taxes would pay 90% of current benefits through 2085.
So, unsustainable does not mean vanishing or disappearing. It means decreasing.
Understand the Medicare assumptions
written by AndrewDover, July 15, 2011 1:19
The Medicare estimates only apply if Congress stops doing "Doc" fixes and drops physician fees by 29% next year. Does that sound likely to you?

"Most of the ACA-related cost saving is attributable to a reduction in the annual payment updates for most Medicare services (other than physicians’ services and drugs) by total economy multifactor productivity growth, which is projected to average 1.1 percent per year. The report notes that the long-term viability of this provision is debatable.
"In addition, an almost 30-percent reduction in Medicare payment rates for physician services is assumed to be implemented in 2012 , notwithstanding experience to the contrary. "

Section III of http://www.cms.gov/ReportsTrus...r2011.pdf

explains the situation and refers to:

sustainable for decades is sustainable indeed
written by Bob F, July 18, 2011 12:54
I am amused when programs that might show a shortfall in decades are considered "not sustainable". How much of human activity, either governmental or non-governmental, is sustainable by that criteria? We are in this current debate because most of the rest of what government does is not sustainable (by that definition) even over a few years, and constant changes have to be made to keep it going.

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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.