APs Fact Check Distorts the Fundamentals of a Republican Plan to Reshape Medicare

Originally published at Beat The Press

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 Represenative 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 senior’s 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.

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