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.


  1. 1
    Captin Sarcastic says:

    This one baffled me as well. I don’t know how Politifact arrived at their conclusion. Maybe they voted and the numerous GOP lies had a plurality, but the few liberal candidate wonn with a minority vote? In any case, the logic politifact uses is really, really awful. They claim three points in support of their claim.

    1. They claim that Dems ignored the fact that only seniors 10 years from now will be effected. (If I vote to drop 1000 atomic bombs on Iraq in 10 years, could anyone say that I have not voted to end Iraq?)

    2. Dems used terms like “end” and “kill” when the program would still exist. (No, the single payor government provided health insurance created in 1965 would not exist, no matter what they call the next system, it would be the end of what is)

    3. Dems used images of senior citizens in their ads, which according to Politifact, gave a false impression that current seniors would be affected by the end of Medicare. (It doesn’t matter when Medicare ends, next year or 50 years from now, the people who will be effected WILL be senior citizens. Should the ads have shown 54 year olds 10 years away from being screwed?)

    I personally thought the lie of the year should have been the hugely echoed falsehood that the stimulus created zero jobs. This is not only demonstrably false, it was echoed by virtually every GOP member, and beyond being false, it is dangerous since any that believe it would remove a valuable tool in dealing with economic corrections.

    Maybe Politifact just wanted some press. Saying Republicans lie, again, is like saying water is wet. It’s just not really worthy of front page coverage.

  2. 2
    Grung_e_Gene says:

    Can we have just a single “Lie of the Year” when everything the Republicans say at their debates or news conferences is a lie/falsehood?

    But, Paul Ryan is sooooooo dreamy. Those piercing eyes, he’s the new Gingrich (called smart by conservative buffoons) but with better hair!!!

  3. 3
    John Sonntag says:

    RT @ronchusid: PolitiFact Has Problems Understanding Medicare #p2 #p21 #topprog http://t.co/wAzoqvTc

  4. 4
    Liberal Effects says:

    PolitiFact Has Problems Understanding Medicare | Liberal Values http://t.co/Qamg7idR

  5. 5
    Henrietta (top that) says:

    RT @LiberalEffects: PolitiFact Has Problems Understanding Medicare | Liberal Values http://t.co/8YIa62GV

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