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March 16, 2012 10:59 PM UTC

Journalists should correct GOP allegation that Obamacare cuts Medicare benefits

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  • by: Jason Salzman

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Even though I’m a bit late getting to this, and it’s not exactly a new topic, I’m gonna write a quick blog post about Rep. Scott Tipton’s statement, paraphrased in the Pueblo Chieftain last month, that Obamacare’s “target of shrinking future Medicare costs by $500 billion over a decade would ultimately mean the government denying senior citizens needed medical services.”

Numerous fact checkers have shown this to be false.

For example, Pulitzer-Prize winning Politifact reported June 15, 2011:

Also, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, tagged Obamacare by critics, doesn’t eliminate benefits.

Indeed, portions of the law improve benefits and coverage, according to Tricia Neuman, director of the Medicare Policy Project at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit health care research organization. Medicare will cover more preventive health care services, such as wellness visits, and recipients won’t face the “doughnut hole” gap in prescription coverage imposed under an existing Medicare program.

Other provisions reduce the growth in Medicare spending by helping the program operate more efficiently and fund other coverage expansions to the uninsured. Other provisions are designed to improve the delivery of care and quality of care, Neuman has said.

In another article, Politifact found the statement, “The new health care law ‘will cut $500 billion from Medicare. That will hurt the quality of our care,’ ” to be deep in its “Mostly false” category, which is as deeply false as its ratings go.

Fact checkers at the Washington Post also found that the $500 billion is saved in Medicare efficiences which are “wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries.”

In last month’s article, that I quoted above, The Chieftain did not report that Tipton’s statement about Medicare cuts under Obamacare was false.

But in the past, to its credit, it has put the number in some context, showing different ways journalists deal with the misleading use of the $500-billion figure.

Oct. 29, 2010, the Chieftain reported:

“…[Tipton]  repeated his charge that Salazar and Democrats want to cut $500 billion from Medicare — a cut that Tipton said would hurt seniors. That part of the legislation calls for reducing the growth in Medicare expenses by $500 billion over 10 years by eliminating fraud and waste.

Oct. 7, 2010, the Chieftain reported:

Tipton has shot back, accusing Salazar of supporting a $500 billion cut in Medicare — a reference to the Democratic health care legislation that requires the future growth in Medicare expenses to be reduced by $500 billion over 10 years. A reduction in future growth is not a cut in the current Medicare program.

This kind of reporting  is more fair than letting Tipton’s allegations hang unchallenged. But journalists should also include the fact that benefits under Medicare will not be affected.

Here’s another way Chieftain reporter Peter Roper, who wrote all the articles I cite in this blog post, dealt with the $500-billion figure. This actually might be the best approach journalistically, because it focuses on what Republicans themselves have said. But it requires more space than a simple fact check.

On June 28, 2011, the Chieftain pointed out that Republicans first ridiculed the $500 billion figure as being imaginary, and then they switched course and declared that it was a real cut that would hurt seniors.

In an article about a Democratic ad targeting Tipton, the Chieftain reported:

[Tipton] reached back to the 2010 election debate over health care, noting that the Obama administration was touting cutting future Medicare costs by $500 billion over a decade.

At the time, Republicans scoffed that such savings were imaginary in the Democratic legislation intended to broaden health care coverage.

“The Democrats ended Medicare as we know it when they cut $500 billion from it,” Tipton said in a statement sent to reporters Monday.

Aug. 26, 2011, the Chieftain similarly reported:

Two years ago, Republicans ridiculed President Barack Obama’s health care legislation for claiming it would lower the deficit by reducing future Medicare expenses by $500 billion over time. Now they’ve embraced that number as a Democratic cut in the popular health insurance program for seniors… “(Democrats) took $500 billion from Medicare,” Tipton replied…

You want reporters to correct any factual errors in quotations that appear in their work. This is not always practical, unfortunately, for reporters these days.

But when reporting statements that are obviously politically charged, and are easily found to be false or lacking in context, reporters should set the record straight. Tipton’s allegation about Medicare falls into this category.

The $500-billion figure will almost certainly come up again, and when it does, given the sensitivity of the issues involved, it’s only fair for reporters to present a factual statement about the issue.

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