# Tag: politifact

## PolitiFact Oregon “False” Rating of Wehby Claim … Is False

I was pleased to get an inquiry from PolitiFact Oregon recently about a controversy I knew nothing about. Alas, I must deny credit to Politifact’s use of the information I provided.

Monica Wehby, the Portland pediatric neurosurgeon challenging Senator Jeff Merkley (D), recently fired on the senator for his support of the Rebuild America Jobs Act (S. 1769 in the 112th Congress).

According to the Politfact Oregon write-up, Wehby described Merkley’s vote for the act as “typical of a Washington insider like Senator Merkley,” saying, “I would have voted no because this legislation would have cost the average American family \$1,000 a year while making no significant impact to fix our infrastructure and roads.”

Is the cost figure true? My site WashingtonWatch.com was the source of the number that the Wehby camp used (actually \$958.40).

I described the source of the number to the Politifact reporter in some detail:

WashingtonWatch.com does a net present value calculation on CBO scores, calculating as costs the amount that would have to be put in a bank account now to fund future taxes and spending, for example, and as savings the amount that would go into a bank account now based on expected tax reductions and spending cuts. We divide gross amounts by the number of people in the country (according to census figures) and then multiply by the size of the average U.S. family (3.14, if my memory serves). At the end of a Congress, we “freeze” the relevant figures, so the calculation for S. 1769 is based on a discount rate of 3.73%, a U.S. population of 315,085,045, and a national debt of \$16,338,243,391,74.

The CBO score for S. 1769 (click “Read an analysis of the bill” on the bill’s page) shows revenues (taxes - a cost) of about \$56.8 billion and outlays (spending - a cost) of \$56.5 billion. That made S. 1769 a high-cost bill — it proposed increasing both taxes and spending — but it was fairly budget-neutral, increasing the average family’s share of the national debt by only about \$40 per average family.

If Wehby claimed that the bill would have cost the average American family about \$1,000 in new taxes, I think that is incorrect. It would have cost about \$500 per family in new taxes and about \$500 per family in new spending.

Wehby’s claim was not that it would cost \$1,000 in new taxes, though, as the PolitiFact reporter said to me in his inquiry. It was that the bill “would have cost the average American family \$1,000 a year.” That is a correct number, though the reporter did not catch or raise with me that the net present value calculation produces a one-time cost figure—not the cost per-year.

There are arguments against this methodology for calculating costs, which I noted to the reporter:

As the bulk of the revenues would have come from a surtax on people with a modified AGI above \$1,000,000, I see an argument that this would not have come from “average families” in the “median” or “mode” sense. But our calculations are literal averages — the arithmetic mean — which is produced by dividing costs among all families in the U.S. That approach makes the most sense for outlays, as funds in the U.S. treasury can be thought of as “owned” by all the people, and expenses should be treated as falling on all of us. The average/arithmetic mean makes less sense when it comes to revenues because they often come from distinct sets of taxpayers, such as the relatively well off.

We use the method of calculating we do because there are upwards of 10,000 bills in every Congress and hundreds get CBO scores. We don’t know of a reliable or accurate way to calculate and report tax or spending incidence at scale — who actually pays and who actually receives tax dollars — in all these bills.

My conclusion: “The statement that the bill would have cost the average family \$958.40 according to CBO figures is accurate because taxes and spending are each appropriately treated as costs and ‘average’ refers to the arithmetic mean.”

But that’s not what PolitiFact Oregon reported. To my surprise, I “faulted Wehby’s claim on two counts.”

The first involved the \$958.40 figure itself. In reality, [Harper] said, only half of that would come in the form of new taxes. The remainder really doesn’t count since it’s in the form of new spending. And while it could be argued that new spending amounts to a long-term debit, the CBO’s own finding that the bill was budget-neutral negates that point.

I neither said nor implied that spending “really doesn’t count.” It counts. The methodology I use counts it. And, while I pointed out that the bill was relatively budget-neutral, candidate Wehby didn’t make any claim about the budgetary effects of the bill. A bill can cost a lot and be budget-neutral. This one did and was.

The second point that the Politifact report attributed to me “was that ‘average families’ would not have borne the burden of any new costs because language in the bill made clear that it would be financed by a 0.7 percent surtax on millionaires.”

That wasn’t my point at all. Here’s what I wrote to the reporter:

It’s important and relevant to many, though, that the incidence of the taxes would have been on relatively rich people. The \$500 in taxes would not have hit the “typical” (median/mode) American or Oregonian family. It’s up to you whether you believe it’s expected in the context of Wehby’s statement to get into tax incidence. You can ding her for that omission if your judgment is that it’s something she should have included.

It’s not something I faulted Wehby for. I called the statement “accurate” and left the question of subtlety around tax incidence to the reporter (thinking to myself, “Yeah, right. A political campaign is supposed to get into ‘tax incidence’…”).

It turns out that what a bill “costs” is hard to figure out when the bill has both revenue and spending measures. I’ve given it a lot of thought over years and come up with a pretty good methodology (explained and caveated at WashingtonWatch.com’s “about” page.) It’s disappointing when this thinking, and the work you put in writing up an issue for a reporter, comes out this badly misunderstood, and your own views mischaracterized.

With regret, I rate Politifact Oregon’s rating of Wehby’s claim False.

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## Adler Dresses Down PolitiFact-Georgia over Embarrassing ‘Fact-Check’

At the Volokh Conspiracy, my occasional co-author Jonathan Adler dresses down PolitiFact-Georgia for declaring “falsemy claim that Georgia law prohibits state employees from implementing an ObamaCare Exchange. If you place faith in “fact checkers,” you might not want to read it. My response to PolitiFact-Georgia is here.

## ObamaCare Implementation News

Here’s some ObamaCare implementation news from around the interwebs:

• Minnesota Facing Bigger Bill For State’s Health Insurance Exchange”: Kaiser Health News reports Minnesota has increased its spending projections for operating the state’s ObamaCare Exchange by somewhere between 35-80 percent for 2015. Spending on the Exchange will rise by another 19 percent in the following year.
• The Wall Street Journal  defends the 25-30 states that aren’t gullible enough to create an Exchange and therefore take the blame for ObamaCare’s higher-than-projected costs.
• Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has announced she will not implement an Exchange. That creates another potential state-plaintiff, millions of potential employer-plaintiffs, and (by my count) 430,000 potential individual plaintiffs who could join Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt in challenging the IRS’s illegal ObamaCare taxes. It also means that Arizona can start luring jobs away from tax-happy California. There are four Hostess bakeries in California that might be looking to relocate.
• I’m enjoying a friendly debate with The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn and University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos over whether the those taxes really do violate federal law and congressional intent (spoiler alert: they do). I owe Bagenstos a response.
• PolitiFact Georgia rated false my claim that operating an ObamaCare Exchange would violate Georgia law. I explain here why it is indeed illegal for Georgia (and 13 other states) to implement an Exchange.
• ThinkProgress.org reports, “Romney’s Transition Chief Is Encouraging States To Implement Obamacare.” A better headline would have been, “Government Contractor Encourages More Government Contracts.”
• The Washington Examiner editorializes, “In California…state regulators have warned…insurance premiums will rise by as much as 25 percent once the exchange comes online…That’s the best-case scenario.” And, “In 2014, seven Democratic Senate seats will be up for grabs in states Mitt Romney carried (Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia). Unless Obama’s HHS bureaucrats pull off an unprecedented miracle of central planning, Obamacare could well sink Democrats again in 2014, the same way it did in 2010.”

## I Have Been False*

*According to PolitiFact.

In an unconscious parody of everything that’s wrong with the “fact-checker” movement in journalism, PolitiFact Georgia (a project of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) has rated false my claim that operating an ObamaCare Exchange would violate Georgia law. (For some of the “fact-checker” genre’s greatest worst hits, see Ben Domenech’s top 10 list.)

PolitiFact’s analysis is one-sided. It confuses opinions with facts. It was written with “no particular policy domain knowledge.” It therefore not only reaches the wrong result – it analyzes a claim I did not make and never would make.

PolitiFact began by saying that it was fact-checking the following claim, which I made in a November 9 opinion piece at National Review Online:

[O]perating an Obamacare exchange would be illegal in 14 states. Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have enacted either statutes or constitutional amendments (or both) forbidding state employees to participate in an essential exchange function: implementing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates.

Lest anyone think I meant it would be illegal for the federal government to operate Exchanges in those states, the context and the text (“forbidding state employees”) of that opinion piece make it clear I was discussing whether states should establish Exchanges. Unfortunately, the context was lost on PolitiFact readers, because PolitiFact provided neither a citation nor a link to the opinion piece it was fact-checking.

In Georgia’s case, the relevant statute is that state’s version of the “Health Care Freedom Act” (GA. CODE ANN. § 31-1-11), enacted in 2010. It reads:

To preserve the freedom of citizens of this state to provide for their health care: No law or rule or regulation shall compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system.

The statute defines “compel” as including “ ‘penalties or fines.”

PolitiFact notes that I cited that provision to “an Atlanta Journal-Constitution health reporter [Carrie Teegardin] via email.” Thus PolitiFact presumably had access to the rest of my November 9 email to Teegardin, in which I explained why that provision precludes Georgia from establishing an ObamaCare Exchange:

Determining eligibility for and distributing ObamaCare’s “premium assistance tax credits” is a key function of an Exchange. Those tax credits trigger penalties against employers (under the employer mandate) and residents (under the individual mandate).

Indeed, there are many ways Exchanges assist the federal government in the enforcement of those mandates. State-run Exchanges must report to the IRS on which residents have dropped their coverage and when (Section 1311(d)(4)(I)). State-run Exchanges must notify employers when one of their employees receives a tax credit  (Section 1411(e)(4)(B)(iii)). That very notification triggers penalties against the employer (Section 1513/I.R.C. Section 4980H(a)). State-run Exchanges must collect all the information the federal government needs to determine eligibility for tax credits and deliver it to the federal government (Section 1401/I.R.C. Section 36B(f)(3)) – a crucial component of enforcing both the individual and employer mandates. The  Secretary can require state-run Exchanges to verify that information for the federal government (Section 1411(d)), and state-run Exchanges must resolve any inconsistencies between the information provided by applicants and official records (Section 1411(e)). If a state-run Exchange can’t resolve an inconsistency between the application and the official records within a certain time period, it has to notify residents that they will be penalized under the individual mandate (Section 1411(e)(4)(B)(iv)). State-run Exchanges must maintain an appeals process for individuals and employers who believe they were wrongly assessed penalties (Section 1411(f)).

My email to Teegardin continued:

Ergo, if Georgia establishes an Exchange, then a Georgia law and state employees would be indirectly compelling employers and residents to participate in a health care system.

In other words, the activities required of an ObamaCare Exchange are exactly the sorts of things that the Health Care Freedom Acts in Georgia and 13 other states exist to prohibit those states’ employees from doing. In a November 15 opinion piece Atlanta Journal-Constitution, no less, I reiterated that same point: legislatures and voters in those 14 states have enacted state laws that make it illegal (and in some cases unconstitutional) for state employees to operate an ObamaCare Exchange.

Rather than evaluate that claim, PolitiFact asked a handful of Georgia scholars about something completely different: whether Georgia’s Health Care Freedom Act prevents the federal government from creating an Exchange for Georgia, or otherwise trumps federal law. It’s difficult to see how anyone who had read my two opinion pieces, much less my email to Teegardin, could think I was saying anything of the sort. Of course such a claim would be false; that’s why I never made it. (ObamaCare does itself give each state the power to stop the federal government from running an Exchange within its borders. But that’s a topic for another day.)

Then again, I could have set them straight. PolitiFact contacted me for help with this “fact-check.” I politely refused, citing my ongoing boycott of their organization. One might say my refusal to assist with this “fact-check” means I have no right to complain.

Another way of looking at it is that this episode validates my boycott. Consider how they responded to my refusal to help: Cannon won’t speak to us because he says we’re not reputable. Should we try to find someone else who might argue his side? Nah. PolitiFact could have proven me wrong by conducting a thorough analysis. Off the top of my head, I can think of seven other experts they might have consulted. A simple online search would have produced two attorneys who have threatened to sue the State of Arizona under the Health Care Freedom Amendment to its Constitution if state officials establish an Exchange. Instead, PolitiFact considered a discussion of my email auto-signature – “Tyrannis delenda est” – more worthy of inclusion in their “fact-check” than another expert who would take up my side.

My boycott of PolitiFact hasn’t succeeded in bringing about the desired behavior change. But if they keep this up, I don’t see how I can fail.

## ‘There Isn’t a Single Honest Health Economist Who Agrees with the LA Times’ on IPAB

I blogged previously about Mitt Romney’s claim that ObamaCare creates “an unelected board that’s going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have.” President Obama conceded the point when he responded that the Independent Payment Advisory Board “basically identifies best practices and says, let’s use the purchasing power of Medicare and Medicaid to help to institutionalize all these good things that we do.” The president admitted the whole point of IPAB is to let a bunch of experts decide what practices are “best,” and to stop paying for what isn’t.

I am not aware of a single fact-checker who has grasped that basic point. Not PolitiFact, not the Associated Press, not FactCheck.org, not The Washington Post’s Fact-Checker, not this Washington Post health reporter. The Los Angeles Times called Romney’s claim “erroneous” and writes:

This is a myth advanced repeatedly by critics of the Affordable Care Act and debunked consistently by independent fact-checkers…the panel is explicitly prohibited from cutting benefits for people on Medicare. And there is no provision in the law that empowers the advisory board to make any decisions about what treatments doctors may provide for their patients.

Jay Bhattacharya, a professor of medicine and economics at Stanford University, responds:

The media “fact check” business is incredibly tiresome given how pedantic and downright inaccurate it is, but I wanted to weigh in on this one before it hardens.  The LA Times somehow thinks that the ACA (aka Obamacare) will have no effect on determining what care patients can get, and consequently dings Romney for saying it will.  There isn’t a single honest health economist out there who agrees with the LA Times on this one.

Bhattacharya explains that IPAB will be able to influence care by cutting payments to providers. But that’s not the half of it. IPAB has the power to do exactly what the fact-checkers think it can’t: deny specific treatments to Medicare enrollees. It can even raise taxes and do other things the fact-checkers think it cannot.

I explain why the fact-checkers are wrong at this Cato Institute policy forum at noon on Thursday (October 11). Join us. Pre-register now at that link.

## ‘I Haven’t Raised Taxes’

Why am I only hearing about President Obama’s gob-smacking “I haven’t raised taxes” claim today, and from Reason?

On CBS News’s “60 Minutes” Sunday night, President Obama said, “Taxes are lower on families than they’ve been probably in the last 50 years. So I haven’t raised taxes.”

As of Monday morning, neither the Washington Post’s Pinocchio-awarding Fact-Checker, nor the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org, nor the Tampa Bay Times’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning Politifact.com had risen to this opportunity…

Unbelievable. I just checked those websites, and they still haven’t.

Fortunately, Ira Stoll has. He leaves out a number of taxes President Obama has enacted, though, including raising the Medicare payroll tax on high-income earners, applying the Medicare payroll tax to non-payroll income for high-income earners, limiting the tax exclusion for flexible spending accounts, increasing the penalties on certain health savings account withdrawals, the “Cadillac tax” on high-cost health plans…

## Strike Three for PolitiFact

The annual unveiling of its “Lie of the Year” award garners PolitiFact more attention than anything else. Hopefully, it will garner so much attention that people will recognize this award, which is supposed to improve political discourse, instead degrades it.

PolitiFact’s past three Lies of the Year have been about health care.  Not one of them was a lie.

A lie is when a speaker says something that he knows or believes to be false, for the purpose of deceiving others. None of these supposed Lies of the Year even met the threshold test of being false.  The first two (“death panels” and “ObamaCare is a government takeover”) were actually, demonstrably true.

The third and latest Lie of the Year—that “Republicans voted to end Medicare”—is arguably true: its veracity depends on what your definition of “Medicare” is. To seniors, Medicare means “the government helps me pay for health care.” The House Republicans’ budget (a.k.a., the Ryan plan) would not end such federal assistance, and would arguably improve access to quality health care. To the Left, “Medicare” means the particular way the federal government helps seniors access health care: a single-payer system.  The Ryan plan would end that single-payer system. My leftist friends are right and PolitiFact is wrong: from a certain and valid perspective, this claim is true.

Moreover, even if these three statements were false, the speakers believed them to be true. Therefore, they cannot be lies. Every single Lie of the Year award has gotten that basic fact wrong.

In the process, this award degrades political discourse by implicitly launching—an encouraging others to launch—ad hominem assaults on people who hold legitimate differences of opinion. PolitiFact should find a better way to attract readers.

I have been writing about the flaws in PolitiFact’s business model for some time:

I’m glad to see my friends on the Left have taken notice, though I regret the way it happened.