USA Today Abets ObamaCare Supporters’ Misinformation Campaign

An article in today’s The USA Today titled, “With Many Still in Dark, Groups Shed Light on Health Care Law,” aims to correct misinformation about ObamaCare.  Ironically, the article is itself a monument to misinformation.

It begins:

True or false: The new health care law will cut Medicare benefits for seniors. It will slash Medicare payments to doctors. It will ration health care.

In three polls conducted last month, large percentages of Americans answered “true” to each statement. All three are false.

In fact, two of the three statements are 100-percent true.

First, ObamaCare will cut payments to the private health insurance companies that provide coverage to the 20 percent of Medicare enrollees who participate in the Medicare Advantage program.  That will eliminate many types of coverage for seniors in Medicare Advantage.  That should be painfully obvious, but if you require confirmation, visit FactCheck.org.  ObamaCare will also ratchet down the price controls that Medicare uses to pay hospitals and many other health care providers.  It should likewise be obvious that that will reduce access to services that are ostensibly “guaranteed” to all enrollees.  But again, if you need confirmation, check in with Medicare’s chief actuary, who works for President Obama.  We can debate whether that’s good or bad.  What’s not up for debate: ObamaCare in fact “will cut Medicare benefits for seniors.”

Second, it is also true – ipso facto – that ObamaCare “will ration health care.”  To ration is to limit consumption.  When ObamaCare reduces coverage for Medicare Advantage enrollees and reduces access to care for all Medicare enrollees, it limits seniors’ consumption of medical care.  We can debate whether that’s good or bad.  What’s not up for debate: that is rationing.

Finally, yes, it is technically false that ObamaCare “will slash Medicare payments to doctors.”  But since current law will slash Medicare payments to doctors if Congress does nothing, and since an earlier version of ObamaCare would have eliminated those cuts, but ObamaCare’s architects dropped that provision so as to make ObamaCare appear deficit-neutral… well, perhaps the public can be forgiven if it confuses “eliminating a provision that would have prevented cuts in Medicare payments to doctors” with “slashing Medicare payments to doctors.”

USA Today continues:

The debunked idea raised by opponents during congressional debate that “death panels” could make end-of-life decisions is seen as real by nearly half of those surveyed.

I’ll rate this statement misinformed and misleading.

First, Sarah Palin’s claim about “death panels” was true at the moment she said it, even if she didn’t know why.

Second, by rationing Medicare enrollees’ access to medical services (see above), ObamaCare will effectively make end-of-life decisions for seniors.  According to Medicare’s chief actuary, ObamaCare could force one in six hospitals to stop accepting Medicare patients.  If ObamaCare results in there no longer being a hospital bed waiting for Grandma at the end of her life, that’s an end-of-life decision.  It wasn’t a personalized decision.  It’s not even necessarily the wrong decision.  But let’s drop this nonsense about ObamaCare not making end-of-life decisions for seniors.  And ObamaCare did create a panel that will make many of these implicit rationing decisions.  It’s called the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

But my guess is that people tell pollsters that ObamaCare will make end-of-life decisions because they understand the Golden Rule, and that he who pays the piper calls the tune.  So long as the government purchases medical care, it will be the government that decides who receives it and who doesn’t.  And ObamaCare gave government a lot more of the gold.

USA Today packed a lot of misinformation into this one sentence:

The National Council on Aging posed 12 questions about the law to 636 seniors and found that fewer than 17% of them knew half the answers.

Actually, it’s NCOA that doesn’t know the answers.  Here are a few of their poll’s true-false questions:

  • “The new law will result in future cuts to your basic Medicare benefits.” A plurality of seniors (42 percent) responded “true.”  And they’re right: as Medicare’s chief actuary has explained and as NCOA should know, ObamaCare will reduce access to care for Medicare enrollees.  That’s a benefit cut, unless you think “coverage without care” counts as a benefit.  Yet according to NCOA, the correct answer is “false.”  Just 22 percent of seniors agreed.
  • “Under the new health reform law, Medicare Advantage plans will cut benefits and increase premiums.” NCOA says the correct response is “don’t know,” and that’s the answer that 56 percent of seniors gave.  Perhaps seniors haven’t read the chief Medicare actuary’s report, which found that ObamaCare “will result in less generous benefits packages” in Medicare Advantage and “when the MA provisions will be fully phased in, enrollment in MA plans will be lower by about 50 percent.”  But NCOA should have read that report, and should therefore know that the correct answer is “true.”
  • “The new law is projected to increase the federal budget deficit over the next ten years and beyond.” Again, a plurality (49 percent) responded “true.”  Again, they’re right.  Yet NCOA thinks the correct response is “false.”  No doubt NCOA would point to the Congressional Budget Office projections that ObamaCare will reduce the deficit.  But those projections are valid only if  ObamaCare “remain[s] unchanged throughout the next two decades, which is often not the case for major legislation.” The CBO wrote this would particularly be a problem with ObamaCare, which “would maintain and put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time.”  So one could reasonably interpret the CBO to have projected an increase, not a decrease in the deficit.  Alternatively, seniors could have been thinking about former CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who projected in The New York Times that ObamaCare “would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.”  There are lots of reasons why “true” is in fact the correct answer.  (One of them is that NCOA used the passive construction “is projected.”)  Only 14 percent of seniors agreed with NCOA.
  • “As a result of the new law, the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund will be extended by about 9 years to 2026.” A majority of seniors responded “don’t know” (54 percent), while another 22 percent responded “false.”  Either answer is more correct than NCOA’s preferred answer (“true”).  There are no assets in the Medicare “trust fund.”  Thus there is no date by which those non-assets will be exhausted.  Indeed, the “trust fund” has absolutely no effect on Medicare’s solvency.  The very premise of this question is a fraud.  Someone needs to educate seniors about the Medicare trust fund, but NCOA is not the group to do it.
  • “The health care reform law will cut Medicare payments to doctors.” A plurality of seniors responded “true” (45 percent), while only 14 percent of seniors gave NCOA’s preferred response (“false”).  But again, perhaps seniors can be forgiven on this one (see above).

USA Today should have dug a little deeper.

More misinformation:

More than four in 10 people in the Kaiser poll wrongly believe the law included a government panel to make end-of-life decisions for Medicare patients.

Again, ObamaCare does include a panel that would implicit rationing decisions, including for Medicare patients at the end of life (see above).

More misinformation still:

As the Department of Health and Human Services issues the regulations needed to implement the law, it’s trying to get the facts out through its website, healthcare.gov. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is helping, most recently with a cable TV ad featuring Andy Griffith.

FactCheck.org found that Andy Griffith used “weasel words” to “mislead” seniors about ObamaCare.  How is USA Today not aware of that?