The World’s Worst “Fact Check”

I didn’t watch President Obama’s press conference last night, so I read some reports this morning. And, being someone who both knows a bit about health care policy and also missed the press conference, I thought I’d want to check out Robert Pear and Peter Baker’s “Experts Dispute Some Points In Health Talk.” If Chery Gay Stolberg turned in a shoddy performance  yesterday, this was probably one of the worst fact checks I’ve ever seen. First of all, without exception, there were no “experts” who disputed a single policy point in the entire talk. Instead, we got things like this:

Mr. Obama said doctors, nurses, hospitals, drug companies and AARP had supported efforts to overhaul health care.

While it is true the American Medical Association has endorsed a bill drafted by House Democratic leaders, a half-dozen state medical societies have sharply criticized provisions that would establish a new government-run health insurance plan.

Wow — I mean, I know Robert Pear isn’t dense. But seriously? What’s inconsistent here? President Obama said doctors support “efforts to overhaul health care.” He didn’t say, “every single doctor and every single doctor’s group in the entire country supports every single proposal on the table.” What’s more, it’s still not inconsistent to say that doctors have supported health care overhaul efforts even if they disagree with certain proposals. To be specific, here’s a statement from the Michigan State Medical Society in which the group espouses support for health care reform but voices concerns about the public option. Ugh. But wait, there’s more.

Of the proposed new cost-control agency, Mr. Obama said: “It’s not going to reduce Medicare benefits. What it’s going to do is to change how those benefits are delivered so that they’re more efficient.”

Hospitals say the cuts could indeed cut services in some rural areas and from teaching hospitals, which receive extra payments because of higher costs.

First of all, note the pernicious use of the word “could.” But that’s beside the point. Reduced benefits — which would be a reduction in services available — are simply not the same thing as reduced reimbursement rates for certain procedures that occur in a certain order. They’re just not the same thing. Also, this particular criticism assumes that the IMAC would deem it in the best interest of Americans to make rural and teaching hospitals infeasibly expensive to run. I think it’s a safe assumption that’s not going to happen. But moving on…

In seeking to portray health legislation as bipartisan, Mr. Obama said that 160 Republican amendments were adopted in a bill approved last week by the Senate health committee. Republicans said many of the amendments involved technical provisions and did not alter the fundamental features of the bill.

Again, the title of the piece is “Experts Dispute Points In Health Talk,” not “Republicans bitch about process.” Moving on…

The president said that health insurance companies were making “record profits.” America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main lobby for insurers, contends that “for every $1 spent on health care in America, approximately one penny goes to health plans’ profits.”

Classic non-denial denial. And we’re still going…

Mr. Obama said he was not proposing to ration care, but just wanted to coordinate it better. For example, he said, he wants to eliminate repetitious tests ordered by different doctors for the same patient.

Again, nothing inconsistent here. What the administration has actually said is that they want to limit incentives for repetitious tests. You will still be able to pay for whatever services you want.

Electronic medical records and health information technology, championed by Mr. Obama, could reduce such duplication. But, under his plan, it is not clear who would take responsibility for patients and coordinate care in traditional fee-for-service medicine.

First of all, who’s plan is “his”? As far as I know, there are three primary options here (not including Wyden-Bennett): Senate Finance, Senate HELP, and the House Tri-Committee. None of them are final pieces of legislation, and what’s more, even if they were, they’d have to be worked out in conference. Roughly speaking, they are rought drafts. It’s like criticizing a manager for bullpen mismanagement in the 5th inning.

The piece ends with a fair criticism on deficit reduction, but I think over all, this piece was total execrable.

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6 Responses to “The World’s Worst “Fact Check””

  1. Timmy K Says:

    Your right it isn’t his plan… in the sense that he drafted it. but he has done pretty much everything else in influencing it. So it is certainly valid to pick apart what he wants done. He said he wants cut down on Bureaucracy but all he will do is add one big bureaucratic program. He said he wants to fix health care because it is bankrupting America well why spend more money on it then?

  2. Jon Says:

    Timmy, I think your understanding of the drafting process is pretty confused. The president has done nothing more than lay out a series of principles. More recently, he’s come out strongly in favor of a public option, but he’s been intentionally vague on the specifics.

    As to your latter point, you’re confusing the difference between total health spending on a national level and the percentage of that spending coming from federal outlays. You’re right that the government will be spending more on health care with reform, but the whole idea is to be spending less as a country. As it happens, one of the best and most politically feasible ways to do that is to have the government provide a public option.

  3. Timmy K Says:

    “whole idea is to be spending less as a country”

    obviously the CBO disagrees and i don’t know how you can dispute that.

    No the i’m not confused, just saying you cant give obama immunity because his office didn’t actually propose a plan.

    No comment on the bureaucracy stuff?

    • Jon Says:

      I can dispute it quite easily: the CBO is charged with projecting effects of legislation on the federal budget, and that’s what they’ve done. The focus of their efforts isn’t on examining what effects federal outlays will have on private consumption of health care. Now, there’s been some question as to whether the plans as presently scored will actually “bend the curve,” but that’s largely a question of how CBO chooses to score certain proposals and what’s being proposed. What’s more, the CBO has indicated that the IMAC proposal *will* bend the curve, which will mean that we’re actually reducing the growth of health care costs. In other words, we’ll be spending less (or at least slowing the pace) of national health expenditures.

      As for bureaucracy, I’m not sure if you’ve ever had problems with your private health care provider, been denied treatment, had to get a referral, fill out forms when you change jobs, etc — but being for-profit doesn’t make something less bureaucratic. In fact, the fractious nature of the current system contributes to *more* bureaucracy. If your health care wasn’t tied to your employer, and records were centralized, it’s hard to see how that wouldn’t be *less* bureaucratic than the current system.

  4. Timmy K Says:

    “I can dispute it quite easily: the CBO is charged with projecting effects of legislation on the federal budget, and that’s what they’ve done”
    I am arguing against the point of “spending less as country” and the CBO is the best organization for projecting the costs. They state very simply that this bill as it stands now will cost us more! try once again to dispute that….. http://www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=10464

    Your point that bureaucracy is there now is true. Your flimsy opinion that a huge government insurance program with all kind of strings attached will be less bureaucratic than before is just plain idealistic and deceitful.

  5. Jon Says:

    From the CBO’s Report:

    CBO’s and JCT’s preliminary assessment of the impact on the federal deficit for the bill as introduced is summarized in the following table. The enclosures with this letter provide estimates of the changes in the nonelderly U.S. population with health insurance coverage, the primary budgetary components of the bill’s major provisions related to insurance coverage, and a detailed table of the other provisions’ impact on FEDERAL DIRECT SPENDING.” (emphasis added).

    As for your latter point, you’ve said my opinion is “flimsy”, suggested something about “all kinds of strings attached”, and accused me of being both “idealistic” and “deceitful.” You do not however, name a single shred of evidence to support any one of those claims. Something like this: Medicare has significantly lower administrative costs than private insurance programs.


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