Wash. Post, AP reported as fact Bush's inflated Medicare enrollment numbers

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In reporting on President Bush's March 14 remarks on the Medicare prescription drug program, The Washington Post and the Associated Press both uncritically repeated Bush's claim that 26 million senior citizens have voluntarily enrolled in the program. In fact, the number of seniors who voluntarily enrolled is about 5 million, or one-fifth of the number touted by Bush and repeated by the Post and AP.

In reporting on President Bush's March 14 remarks on the Medicare prescription drug program in Canandaigua, New York, The Washington Post and the Associated Press both uncritically repeated Bush's claim that 26 million senior citizens have voluntarily enrolled in the program. In fact, while there are approximately 26 million senior citizens enrolled in the program, the number of seniors who have voluntarily enrolled is about 5 million -- one-fifth of the number touted by Bush and repeated by the Post and the AP.

On March 13, Bush claimed: "Twenty-six million seniors so far have taken a look and said, I think it's worthwhile to sign up." As the weblog Think Progress noted in a March 14 entry, The Boston Globe reported on February 23 that there are actually far fewer voluntary participants:

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.

According to the Globe, those that were automatically enrolled in the Medicare prescription drug program already had some sort of prescription drug coverage, and that the "enrollment of about 5 million people who did not have drug coverage previously falls far short" of the program's initial goal.

Think Progress further noted that Bush and his subordinates have cited the 26 million number several times over the past month.

From the March 15 Washington Post article:

The widespread confusion created by the plan is now giving way to the plan's vision of lowering drug costs for senior citizens, Bush said. To date, 26 million senior citizens have signed up for the benefit. Not only has the benefit reduced drug costs for most enrollees, but federal costs for the plan are also running 20 percent lower than projected, he said.

From the March 15 Associated Press article:

But he said the program is providing 50 percent reductions in drug costs for the average elderly patient, and significantly higher savings for lower-income seniors. And he said the introduction of choice -- though bewildering at first -- is also helping the 26 million who have enrolled so far to benefit from higher quality.

Posted In
Health Care, Medicare
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post, Associated Press
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