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.
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the March 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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On MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough continued to harp on Medicare and deficit spending as a pressing economic problem and twice claimed that "liberals are denying math" to avoid tackling the issue. However, economists widely disagree with that assessment, suggesting that it is Scarborough, not liberals, who has a weak understanding of math.
On the February 12 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough, who has previously hit Paul Krugman on his view of long-term debt and attempted to discredit the Nobel Prize winning economist for defending Medicare, claimed that "liberals should want to reform middle class entitlements" so as to not "steal from welfare programs...for the poorest Americans."
Scarborough's attempt to paint Medicare as one of America's most pressing issues completely misses the point behind its current problems. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out that Medicare, rather than being the "problem," is actually to solution to the real issue -- rising health care costs. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, even goes as far as to say that Medicare is "by far the most efficient part of the national healthcare system."
Indeed, evidence suggests that Medicare provides a more economically viable delivery system for healthcare. According to both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, Medicare is better than the private sector at controlling costs, and projections of future cost growth in public health care programs are lower than those for private sector.
Furthermore, many economists, including Reich and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, note that Medicare can use its bargaining leverage to negotiate prices of medical procedures and prescription drugs. In fact, according to economist Jared Bernstein, provisions in the Affordable Care Act -- many of which have not yet been implemented -- will help control costs of healthcare, brightening the prospects for sustainable Medicare.
In addition to being wrong on Medicare, Scarborough claimed that those who disagree with him on today's deficits amount to just a few "bloggers eating Cheetos," implying that the majority opinion is on his side and that "the American people know" he's right about spending.
Scarborough displayed the same willful ignorance of economic discourse in his January Politico op-ed, "Paul Krugman vs. the world." Economists like Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers agree that deficits are not worthy of concern, so long as economic output lags behind its potential, as do former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett and John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal lists a few others.
The simplest math is this: at least 15 experts, including 13 economists, a congressman, and a Reagan budget adviser, reject Scarborough's argument.
The Congressional Budget Office's new baseline projections back Krugman as well: The CBO found that the sharp rise in debt-to-GDP that Scarborough laments has stopped, and that the ratio of public debt to economic output will hold at or near its current level for the next decade. Further, the report notes a trillion-dollar gap between actual and potential economic output. The CBO doesn't explicitly state policy recommendations, but Rex Nutting of the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch noted that the report amounts to a call for four more years of high deficits.
This wealth of professional economists and empirical facts may explain an apparent shift in Scarborough's argument from the February 12 segment, in which he said even Krugman's supporters "agree with me that deficits aren't the problem, the long-term debt is the problem." If Scarborough believes that deficits aren't a problem, then what does he think he and the entire mainstream of the economics profession are arguing about? Throughout the recent weeks' debate, Scarborough has attacked deficits, and conflated them with the long-term debt. He blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for slowed economic growth in late 2012, and bragged in Politico of his sterling deficit-hawk track record dating back to 1994.
It is true that the economists making the textbook argument for running deficits today also note that deficits will need to be controlled in the medium-near future. Jared Bernstein refers to this conceptual balance as being a CDSH: a cyclical dove and a structural hawk. Is Scarborough now looking to join that club, by declaring support for near-term deficits coupled with restraint in the middle distance? If so, Krugman, and his fellow "math-challenged" supporters, would be justified in declaring victory.
The decision by television news producers to rely on political guests and reporter-pundits in their coverage of the recent debt ceiling dispute not only pulled focus away from economic reality, it also gave TV media influencers room to reinforce a key falsehood about the nature of our deficits.
A Media Matters study of 273 cable news segments on the debt ceiling found 55 segments attributing deficits primarily to entitlement program spending, compared to just four segments acknowledging that rising health care costs and the economic collapse are to blame.
Economists are clear about the primary sources of recent deficits -- on top of the Bush tax cuts, the Great Recession triggered massively higher counter-cyclical spending, some of which was automatic for things like jobless benefits and food stamps, and some spending that was newly enacted to buoy a collapsing economy. Middle- and long-term deficit projections are more controversial, but many economists argue that once economic growth catches up to its potential, our fiscal health will depend almost entirely on our ability to control health care costs. This mainstream economist perspective appeared in just 1.4 percent of the debt ceiling segments Media Matters reviewed from a three week period, while over 20 percent of those segments blamed entitlements for the fiscal gloom.
CNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business viewers were far more likely to be told that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are dimming America's fiscal horizon than those who tuned into CNN or MSNBC for their debt ceiling coverage:
The tendency by the most conservative networks to focus on entitlement spending is telling in light of the right's claims about a struggle between "takers" and "makers." For conservative outlets and their mainstream enablers, each successive skirmish over spending and debt is an opportunity to re-focus the conversation on the supposed need to cut entitlement spending.
If economic experts were included in that cable news conversation, they could reveal some key data. For example, conservative proposals for Medicare would likely accelerate the growth of health care costs; minute changes to the payroll tax system could make Social Security solvent for 70 years; and "entitlement" programs spur economic growth for everyone.