In the five years since President Obama's health care reform plan -- which became the Affordable Care Act (ACA) -- was first introduced, the right-wing media has waged a continuous campaign to attack the law through misinformation, deception, and outright lies.
Fox News is helping promote Sen. Tom Coburn's misleading report on health care spending, which attacked the Affordable Care Act by cherry-picking data on the rise of spending in health care systems.
The Oklahoma Republican released a report this week titled "The History of Federal Health Care Spending," which attempted to rebut projections that the ACA will reduce the deficit and lower health care costs by presenting data on the cost growth of other federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare. The report argued that that "the government's spending on health care programs usually outpaces economic growth" and that "compared with initial government estimates and outlays, most programs have experienced exponential growth."
On Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer said the report revealed "stunning numbers," while Fox contributor Charles Gasparino endorsed the report's suggestion that the growth in government health care programs contradicted positive projections of the ACA's impact, claiming "when government is this much enmeshed in a program like this, it always leads to disaster":
But Fox's hype ignores the crucial flaw in Coburn's report -- it omits crucial context about why the programs' costs have increased and how they perform at controlling costs when compared to private health insurance.
While it's true that spending on programs such as Medicaid and Medicare have increased over the last 50 years, the cause of those rising costs are not a result of government involvement, but due to the fact that overall spending on health care has increased exponentially. A 2010 report in Health Affairs which tracked Medicare spending over roughly 20 years found that much of the growth "is attributable to rising spending on chronic conditions -- specifically diabetes and hypertension, both of which rose considerably in treated prevalence over the past two decades."
Notably, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that "Since Medicare's inception, however, growth in annual spending per beneficiary has been approximately one percentage point lower than private health insurance spending":
Right-wing media have spent the last few years baselessly dismissing the decades-long push to alleviate poverty as not worth the fight, despite evidence showing that government efforts to reduce poverty have been successful.
On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson used his State of the Union address to enumerate proposals that would come to be known as the War on Poverty. Many of the proposals and policy prescriptions outlined in the president's speech were eventually signed into law.
Recent research from the Columbia Population Research Center at Columbia University reveals the extent to which anti-poverty programs since the 1960s have alleviated poverty for millions of Americans. The study, titled "Trends in Poverty with an Anchored Supplemental Poverty Measure," uses a uniform measure of poverty (supplemental poverty measure or SPM) to show a dramatic drop-off in poverty rates from 1967 to 2011. From the study (emphasis added):
The OPM shows the overall poverty rates to be nearly the same in 1967 and 2011 -- at 14% and 15% respectively. But our counterfactual estimates using the anchored SPM show that without taxes and other government programs, poverty would have been roughly flat at 27-29%, while with government benefits poverty has fallen from 26% to 16% -- a 40% reduction. Government programs today are cutting poverty nearly in half (from 29% to 16%) while in 1967 they only cut poverty by about one percentage point.
Today, despite mounting evidence of their success, the corresponding anti-poverty programs created during the War on Poverty face incessant and withering criticism from conservative politicians and their right-wing media allies. Conservative media voices regularly repeat the claim that anti-poverty programs are useless, or that after 50 years they are no longer working. In fact, as recently as January 7, Fox News host Martha MacCallum cast doubt on whether or not lowering the poverty rate over the past five decades was worth the effort, but the following graph from The New York Times' Economix blog shows just how effective these programs have been:
Source: The New York Times, Economix Blog, "The War On Poverty at 50"
In addition to questioning the general efficacy of anti-poverty relief efforts, right-wing media voices have targeted specific Johnson-era programs and initiatives like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, expanded food stamps and welfare, and an increased minimum wage in their coordinated attempt to undermine the social safety net, effectively stymying the purpose of the War on Poverty.
Weekday broadcast and cable evening news covered a variety of economic topics including deficit reduction, economic growth, and effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) throughout the fourth quarter of 2013. A Media Matters analysis shows that many of these segments lacked proper context or input from economists, with Fox News continuing to advance the erroneous notion that the ACA is the purported cause behind poor job growth.
National Rifle Association President Jim Porter falsely claimed that Medicare enrollees are asked to disclose household gun ownership to revive the NRA's decades-old scare tactics about a federal gun registry.
On the December 4 edition of the NRA News show Cam & Company, Porter claimed, "People are not interested in this government going into their records. That's why we are so concerned about everything they are doing to register people in firearms. Even when you go to register for Medicare or under these new programs they ask intrusive questions about -- that they have no business asking, they invade your privacy, and they also are asking questions about whether or not you have firearms in homes." Noting that the NRA has "been concerned about gun registration since 1968," Porter also suggested that his claim about an Obama administration gun registry scheme meant that "the public clearly sees and agrees with us about our concerns."
NRA leadership often baselessly suggests that the Obama administration is attempting to secretly regulate firearms in a manner inconsistent with the administration's public positions. A White House spokesperson has said a national gun registry "is not something that the president has supported" and the post-Newtown massacre Obama administration proposal to reduce gun violence did not call for a registry. In fact, the NRA previously acknowledged in a since-deleted post on its website that the creation of a registry by the government would be currently contrary to two federal laws.
Furthermore, in April, the NRA played a critical role in blocking Obama administration-backed U.S. Senate legislation that would have expanded background checks to all commercial gun sales while also making it a serious criminal offense for an attorney general to create a national gun registry.
Porter offered no evidence to support his claim that Medicare enrollment includes questions about gun ownership and in fact no such question is included in the application for benefits. A related claim that Medicare Annual Wellness Visits include mandatory questions about gun ownership has also been thoroughly debunked.
Hill reporter Elise Viebeck shot down Fox News' continued attempt to scapegoat undocumented immigrants for improper Medicare payments, disputing the claim that undocumented immigrants were willingly involved in defrauding the federal government of millions of dollars.
On October 30, the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services released a report finding that from 2009 through 2011, Medicare inappropriately paid out $29 million in drug benefits for undocumented immigrants.
The report explained that the payments were made erroneously because the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services does not have a policy in place to screen undocumented immigrants from receiving benefits under its drug prescription plan, Medicare Part D.
But Fox News seized on the report to pile false attacks on undocumented immigrants and smear them, using dehumanizing terms like "illegal aliens."
Discussing the OIG report on Fox News' On The Record, Viebeck refuted host Greta Van Susteren's suggestion that CMS was "knowingly" paying insurance companies for Medicare drug benefits to undocumented immigrants. Viebeck noted that CMS "didn't have policies in place that would have caught" undocumented immigrants and "vetted them one by one in terms of their immigration status."
VIEBECK: The way Medicare Part D works is, people have their plans offered through a private insurance company, and then those insurance companies bill the federal government. And so, the federal government was effectively paying insurance companies on behalf of patients that apparently the insurance companies hadn't vetted extensively enough. They thought they might have been eligible for Medicare, but they weren't because they're illegal immigrants.
Viebeck went on to say that "these are not individual immigrants who are trying to defraud the federal government. This all happens through insurance companies. It's basically one gigantic error."
In the week following the end of the 16-day government shutdown, major print media outlets shifted their attention to upcoming bipartisan budget negotiations. This coverage of budget priorities was far more likely to mention the need for deficit and debt reduction than economic growth and job creation, despite economists warning that growth is the more pressing concern.
Fox News greeted the opening of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges on October 1 with lies about the law. Contrary to Fox guest and serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey's claims, Congress does not get a "special subsidy" for health insurance, the law does not cut Medicare benefits, and plans offered on the exchanges will provide a variety of benefits.
Meet The Press host David Gregory misrepresented the Affordable Care Act's "medicare surtax" to suggest that it will be felt by "anybody who gets a paycheck in this country," though the provisions will only affect individuals with an annual income above $200,000.
Beginning with 2013 tax returns, new tax provisions included in the Affordable Care Act will begin to take effect. Though most Americans will only see a tax increase if they decide to forgo health coverage, some changes designed to increase fairness in Medicare funding will begin to affect the wealthiest Americans.
Gregory misled about this change during a discussion about the Affordable Care Act implementation process on the July 7 edition of NBC's Meet the Press. He noted that while he didn't understand all the "ins and outs" of the healthcare law, its Medicare tax increases were one thing that would be apparent to all working Americans on their paychecks.
Gregory's claim failed to recognize that both of the healthcare law's Medicare tax increases affect only the wealthiest of Americans. A 0.9 percent Medicare payroll tax increase will apply to individual earners whose annual income exceeds $200,000 or households earning more than $250,000 - a group representing only 4.2 percent of taxpayers. An additional 3.8 percent tax will apply to the investment income of some Americans. As Forbes noted, "for individuals who have little or no net investment income, their 3.8% Medicare Surtax will be minimal if not zero."
According to the White House, the changes are designed to increase fairness in a system that is highly regressive. Currently, Americans with substantial unearned income do not pay into the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) trust fund as workers do, and payroll tax caps decrease the percentage that high-earners contribute.
Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr., used a severely ill girl to smear health care reform with falsehoods.
After spending months on a pediatric donor list without success, on June 12, Sarah Murnaghan, a 10 year old diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, received a needed lung transplant. This follows her family's successfully petition to the Department of Health and Human Services and the federal judiciary to have her placed on an adult transplant list. Murnaghan was initially placed a pediatric organ transplant wait list as opposed to an adult transplant wait list, due to her age. NYU medical ethicist Art Caplan explained the purpose behind different transplant lists to USA Today: "Adult lungs don't fit well in children's bodies, and that makes it hard to transplant them. You are looking at using a piece of lung instead of a whole lung, and that makes it makes it a more difficult procedure and less likely to work." Fox's Peter Johnson, Jr., took a personal interest in Murnaghan's attempt to be placed on an adult transplant list.
Johnson politicized Murnaghan's difficult situation by dubiously asserting that her difficulty with receiving the lung would be commonplace once health care reform is fully implemented. He baselessly reasoned that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a board created by the health care reform law and designed to contain Medicare costs would deny some people the health care they need, claiming that this was his "fear going forward":
JOHNSON Jr.: I think the lesson of Sarah, the Murnaghan and the Ruddock family is that a lot of us, going forward are going to face this type of travail. When you have advisory boards like the organ advisory board, when you have independent advisory boards that are created by Congress under Obamacare to reduce Medicare, when you have boards appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Service, when you politicize medicine, girls like Sarah, boys like Javier Acosta may die when they shouldn't die. And so that's really the lesson of Sarah.
And the question that we all face as Americans going forward, are we going to have to hire lawyers? Are we going to have to call people at Fox News? Are we going to have to stand out in front of hospitals and in front of Washington offices and say, please give us the health care that the doctors say we can provide, but you are holding back. That is my fear going forward. So a lot on the left are saying 'oh you want to make this about death panels. Sarah would've died, but for public attention and a pro bono law firm. And so I'm afraid what we're facing as a result of Obamacare is new Obamacare courts where hundreds of thousands of Americans will have to go into court and get the health care that they need. That's my great fear this morning.
Contrary to what Johnson says, IPAB is prohibited by law from making "any recommendation to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits" for Medicare recipients. Indeed, PolitiFact Ohio found the claim that IPAB "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments to be a "pants-on-fire" level falsehood.
In using Sarah Murnaghan's situation to attack Obamacare, Johnson Jr. does the very thing he decried; he "politicize[d] medicine."
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hyped the need for entitlement reform, calling for an increase in eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare, means-testing or tying benefits to a beneficiary's income, and competition for Medicare. However, the Review-Journal neglected to mention that health care cost growth has been slowing down and that enacting these policy prescriptions would hurt seniors and low-income Americans.
A Fox News analyst invoked the discredited "death panels" myth to stoke fears that cancer clinics are turning away patients as a result of the 2010 health care reform law, even as those clinics say they are being forced to turn away patients because of automatic across-the-board budget cuts that took effect last month.
On April 3, Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post's WonkBlog reported that thousands of cancer patients will be turned away from clinics for chemotherapy treatment because of automatic cuts to Medicare:
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts.
Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.
On April 5, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the story and blamed not only sequestration, but President Obama's health care reform law, saying: "This is about people dying as a result of Obamacare and as a result of the sequester." Johnson then claimed that Medicare growth reduction, which is in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), would lead to similar problems for Medicare patients. Later, Johnson used this situation to push the right-wing myths about "death panels" under the ACA.
Johnson's claim that the ACA resulted in cancer patients losing chemotherapy treatment is groundless. The Post's Kliff explained in her post how sequestration is solely responsible for this reduction in care:
Legislators meant to partially shield Medicare from the automatic budget cuts triggered by the sequester, limiting the program to a 2 percent reduction -- a fraction of the cuts seen by other federal programs.
But oncologists say the cut is unexpectedly damaging for cancer patients because of the way those treatments are covered.
Medications for seniors are usually covered under the optional Medicare Part D, which includes private insurance. But because cancer drugs must be administered by a physician, they are among a handful of pharmaceuticals paid for by Part B, which covers doctor visits and is subject to the sequester cut.
Karl Rove hypocritically referred to an ad highlighting how a recent House Republican budget would harm seniors who rely on Medicare as "Mediscare" demagoguery, ignoring his own PAC's misleading Medicare-based attack on a Democrat during the 2012 election cycle.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released ads on April 1 highlighting the ramifications of the fiscal year 2014 budget proposed by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) and passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The ads accurately claim that the budget would cut Medicare and harm seniors.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently found that the Ryan budget would "cut Medicare spending by $356 billion," as well as "shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries," and could leave many 65 and 66 year olds without health insurance.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, however, Karl Rove dismissed this ad as "demagoguery" and "deeply dishonest":
The midterm election is still 19 months away, but for some it's never too early for demagoguery. And so this week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a new "Mediscare" ad. The targets are 17 Republican congressmen who supported the House budget framework that includes Medicare reforms.
The ad has menacing music, doomsday predictions and a tagline that these GOP congressmen voted for "a radical vision for America" that guts Medicare. The spot is deceitful but still deserves a swift, powerful rebuttal. Even a deeply dishonest attack on Medicare, if unrefuted, can do damage.
In his critique of the "Mediscare" ad, Rove ignored his own political group's Medicare-based attack ad. American Crossroads ran a misleading ad during the 2012 election cycle attacking Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (FL) for supposedly harming seniors by voting for "massive cuts to Medicare" to the tune of $700 billion by voting for health care reform.
Contrary to the ad's claim, health care reform did not cut Medicare. As an August 2012 ABC News post explained, the supposed "cuts" to Medicare was actually the slowing of Medicare's future growth by "getting rid of fraud and ending overpayments to private insurance companies." Gail Wilensky, a former administrator of the Medicare program under President George H. W. Bush, made clear in a June 2012 Bloomberg article that this growth control would not result in "reductions in the Medicare benefits promised in the law."
The Wall Street Journal criticized the health care reform law for limiting government subsidies that fund private health insurance for seniors -- a key aspect of the Medicare Advantage program -- while ignoring the program's failure to contain health care costs. The Journal has repeatedly called for entitlement cuts yet remains a stalwart defender of Medicare Advantage, despite the fact that economists argue that the program is inefficient.
Medicare Advantage, created in 2003, offers seniors access to private insurers that contract with Medicare to provide benefits. The government gives insurers subsidies for offering the same coverage seniors would receive under Medicare.
The Journal, which endorsed Medicare Advantage when it was founded in 2003, continued to defend the program despite the newspaper's frequent calls to contain government spending through entitlement cuts and other cuts, and despite its repeated attacks on the Obama administration's attempts at reducing government health care costs. From the Journal:
The cuts translate into lower benefits, higher premiums or both, and the liberal goal is to induce seniors and insurers to flee the program, much as Bill Clinton starved the Advantage forerunner known as Medicare+Choice in the 1990s. Yet for the past several years enrollment has climbed at an 8% to 10% clip annually, versus 3% for normal fee-for-service Medicare.
The Administration can't abide that Medicare Advantage is stealing customers from government control, while also exposing the failure of traditional Medicare's cost control. Medicare Advantage shows that more dynamic and efficient private alternatives can generate better health-care value than a room of wise men deciding how the government should pay for tens of thousands of services.
But Medicare Advantage has proven to be more costly for the federal government than Medicare. In an October 2012 New York Times Economix blog post, economist Dana Goldman explained that while Medicaid Advantage offers some savings for seniors when compared to Medicare, it costs the federal government much more than Medicare:
Similarly, a Washington Post Wonkblog post noted that since its inception in 2004, Medicare Advantage has been paying private insurers more than Medicare has had to pay for its beneficiaries. The post provided the below graph:
Health care reform attempted to reduce this cost disparity by reducing the government's excessive payments to private insurers participating in Medicare Advantage and rewarding insurers who earn high performance ratings. The Commonwealth Fund, citing the Congressional Budget Office, found that health care reform will bring the cost of Medicare Advantage down and save $132 billion over 10 years. And Factcheck.org noted that changes to Medicare Advantage would not result in its enrollees receiving fewer benefits than Medicare enrollees.
Fox News pushed long-debunked myths about health care reform in order to promote Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) reported plans to repeal the law as part of his upcoming budget.