FOX News Washington managing editor Brit Hume falsely claimed that a Washington Post story on a new White House cost estimate for the Medicare prescription drug benefit had reported that "the new estimate contradicted an earlier 10-year forecast." In fact, the February 9 article never reported that the new estimate "contradicted" an earlier estimate, only that the new estimate indicated that the benefit would cost hundreds of billions more in later years than most people expected based on previous estimates. The co-author of the article was Washington Post staff writer and FOX News contributor Ceci Connolly, who regularly appears on the "FOX All-Star Panel" on Hume's show, Special Report with Brit Hume.
From "The Grapevine" segment of the February 10 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: The White House has asked The Washington Post to issue a correction of its story yesterday that said White House officials have raised the estimated 10-year cost of Medicare's prescription drug benefit to $1.2 trillion. Other newspapers, including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, reported a much smaller estimate. The Post also reported that the new estimate contradicts an earlier 10-year forecast, but that earlier forecast covered a different 10-year period. The Post declined to publish a correction and repeated essentially the same assertions in a follow-up story today.
The truth is that the Post did not report that the estimate had been "raised," let alone that it "contradicted" an earlier estimate, and the Post noted that the new estimate covered different years than earlier estimates. The Post explained:
The most significant change, he [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Mark B. McClellan] said, is that the new budget projections tally the cost of drug benefits for 10 years. Projections made in 2003 included the two transition years before the drug coverage is fully implemented in 2006.
The Post's lead did report that the new figure is "a much higher price tag than President Bush suggested when he narrowly won passage of the law in late 2003," but this is an accurate characterization. Prior to its passage, Bush cited a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate showing that the cost would be $405 billion from 2004 to 2013. A later estimate by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), released after Congress narrowly passed the bill, estimated the cost at $534 billion over the same period. Neither estimate offered reason to expect such dramatic increases just beyond the horizon.
Hume's claim that "other newspapers ... reported a smaller estimate" obscures the fact that the White House acknowledges that the cost of the drug benefit itself will be $1.2 trillion. The "smaller estimate" results from subtracting from this figure various projected cost savings and offsets included in the drug benefit legislation, which the White House said will reduce the net cost of the 2003 legislation to about $720 billion. The Post accurately reported this detail as well:
Last night, he [McClellan] acknowledged that the cumulative cost of the program between 2006 and 2015 will reach $1.2 trillion, but he cited several major savings and offsets that he said will reduce the federal government's bottom-line cost to $720 billion.
The main difference between the Post's February 9 article and the "other newspapers" Hume cited was the headline. For its February 9 article on the issue, The New York Times put the $720 billion figure in its headline, rather than $1.2 trillion, but like the Post, the Times noted that the difference between the two figures is the result of White House cost-saving estimates:
Estimates prepared by the chief Medicare actuary show that the spending for the prescription drug benefit will total $1.2 trillion from 2006 to 2015, before taking account of income that will offset some of that cost. Dr. McClellan tried to reconcile the numbers on Tuesday night. He said ... the $1.2 trillion showed ''gross costs'' and did not reflect the premiums that would be paid by Medicare beneficiaries, compulsory contributions by states or savings to Medicaid that would result from the new law.
The Wall Street Journal published a February 9 Associated Press article on the estimate, which also noted that projected cost savings reduced the gross estimate:
The $724 billion figure is related to the president's Monday budget request to Congress. Without anticipated savings included in the calculation, the cost of the program over the next decade could swell to $1.19 trillion, according to the documents.