PolitiFact Has Problems Understanding Medicare

For the past three years, PolitiFact has chosen health care statements as their lie of the year. Last year they chose the Republican lie that health care reform is a government takeover of health care. In 2009 the lie of the year was Sarah Palin’s claim about death panels. Perhaps they felt compelled to show that they are not biased towards either party by choosing a Democratic argument this year. The problem, as I discussed previously, is that the argument that the Republican-passed Medicare plan would destroy the Medicare program is actually true.

PolitiFact is nitpicking based upon the misleading fact that the GOP plan would replace the current Medicare program with something completely different. They point out:

With a few small tweaks to their attack lines, Democrats could have been factually correct, said Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “I actually think there is no need to cut out the qualifiers and exaggerate,” he said.

Maybe it would be preferable if Democrats said the Republicans voted to destroy Medicare as we know it, or destroy the current Medicare program, for people under age 55.  Leaving out such qualifiers hardly turns an accurate criticism into a lie. Steve Benen has a good analogy to explain this:

This is simply indefensible. Claims that are factually true shouldn’t be eligible for a Lie of the Year designation.

It’s unnerving that we have to explain this again, but since PolitiFact appears to be struggling with the relevant details, let’s set the record straight.

Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican budget plan intended to privatize the existing system and replace it with something very different — a voucher scheme. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.

It seems foolish to have to parse the meaning of the word “end,” but if there’s a program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.

I’ve been trying to think of the best analogy for this. How about this one: imagine someone owns a Ferrari. It’s expensive and drives beautifully, and the owner desperately wants to keep his car intact. Now imagine I took the car away, removed the metallic badge off the trunk that says “Ferrari,” I stuck it on a golf cart, and I handed the owner the keys.

“Where’s my Ferrari?” the owner would ask.

“It’s right here,” I’d respond. “This has four wheels, a steering wheel, and pedals, and it says ‘Ferrari’ right there on the back.”

By PolitiFact’s reasoning, I haven’t actually replaced the car — and if you disagree, you’re a pants-on-fire liar.

Part of the problem is that the fact checkers are journalists who attempt to determine the truth but cannot be experts on all matters. Health care law is complicated, and I have found similar lack of understanding on their part in the past (as in the discussion to this post). If PolitiFact had reviewed this and provided further background information they could have provided a useful service. Calling this a lie is simply a false interpretation.

PolitiFact claims that, “They ignored the fact that the Ryan plan would not affect people currently in Medicare — or even the people 55 to 65 who would join the program in the next 10 years.”  First of all, destroying Medicare in ten years is still destroying Medicare. Secondly, while some may have ignored this fact, I have discussed this issue in the past (and I doubt I’m the only one).  It is probable that those 55 and older will see changes if the plan were to pass as those under 55 are not likely to support continued funding for the Medicare program if they are never able to benefit from it. People over 55 have good reason to oppose the GOP proposal to maintain political support for funding the real Medicare program.

Their other objections are equally inane, such as arguing,

They used harsh terms such as “end” and “kill” when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system.

Eliminating a government-run single-payer system and replacing it with a privatized system with benefits which are not comparable to what seniors now receive is most certainly ending, and even killing, the current program regardless of whether the new program has the same name. In their discussion they even acknowledged that “seniors would have to pay more to get the benefits they receive today, according to an analysis completed earlier this year by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).” Once again, a plan which is structured in a totally different manner and which provides lower benefits is not the same program as we have today.