The Washington Post once again reported as fact the Bush administration's misleading claim that "29 million Americans have enrolled" in the Medicare prescription drug program. But while the Post suggested that the 29 million enrollees joined the program voluntarily, more than two-thirds were, in fact, enrolled automatically.
In an April 12 article, Washington Post staff writers Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Claudia Deane reported as fact the Bush administration's misleading claim that "29 million Americans have enrolled" in the Medicare prescription drug program. But while the Post suggested that the 29 million enrollees joined the program voluntarily, more than two-thirds of this number were, in fact, enrolled automatically. This was not the first time that the Post reported the misleading administration claim, which Media Matters for America previously documented.
On April 11, President Bush touted his administration's Medicare drug plan in speeches to seniors in Jefferson City, Missouri, and Des Moines, Iowa. During both events, he claimed that "29 million seniors have signed up" for the program. In fact, there are far fewer voluntary participants, as The Boston Globe reported on February 23. At the time of the Globe's article, 20 million of the then-25 million participants had been automatically enrolled:
Mike Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, said more than 25 million people were receiving benefits under the program, called Part D, and that millions more are signing up monthly.
But according to Medicare's own figures, the actual number of voluntary enrollees is much smaller, about 5 million. Some of the 20 million other participants cited by Leavitt were automatically enrolled in Part D on Jan. 1. Others are counted as Part D enrollees, even though they receive coverage from former employers, unions, or the government.
Nonetheless, Birnbaum and Deane reported that "29 million Americans have enrolled" without challenging the figure or even attributing it to Bush. By contrast, Associated Press reporter Deb Riechmann, in an April 11 article on Bush's speech, noted that the White House's figure includes "at least 20 million who were enrolled automatically":
Mark McClellan, Bush's chief Medicare official who traveled with him on the trip, said more than 29 million seniors have enrolled so far. That number, however, includes at least 20 million people who were automatically enrolled because of their participation in other government programs, such as Medicaid, or are getting drug coverage through their former employer.