WaPo’s faulty “fact-check” of RyanCare

posted at 2:35 pm on April 30, 2011 by Karl

Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler awards Rep. Paul Ryan two Pinocchios for statements like this:

There’s a lot of misinformation about what we are proposing and what we are not proposing. We’re saying: Save Medicare by reforming it for people who are 54 and below by working like a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have.

To claim that Ryan is misleading people about his plan, Kessler takes a page from the Politifact playbook, converting differences of opinion into factual disputes.

What’s Kessler’s beef?

Under a 1997 law, the government pays a set rate of 75 percent of the costs of the health plans selected by federal employees and members of Congress. The employee (and members of Congress) pick up the other 25 percent.

Ryan, in his quote, said the new Medicare would be “working like a system just like members of Congress and federal employees have.” But the comparison begins to break down once you consider the premium support payments. Ryan would peg the premium support to the consumer price index, a broad gauge that has been rising more slowly than have health care costs.

The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan arm of Congress, analyzed Ryan’s plan and estimated that by 2030, the government would pay just 32 percent of the health care costs, less than half of what the federal plan currently pays. The other 68 percent of the plan would have to be shouldered by the retiree. (The CBO estimated that if traditional Medicare stayed in place, the government would pay 70 to 75 percent of the costs.)

The CBO analysis also assumed that adding private insurance plans into the mix would raise administrative costs and would not keep medical inflation as low as traditional Medicare has done.

Kessler, in his role as “fact-checker” ought to understand that CBO estimates and assumption are not facts — they are estimates and assumptions. They are debatable:

Ryan disputes these assumptions. “We believe — based on experience — the competitive elements of patient-centered reform will exert downward pressure on the cost of a private plan, and that therefore the government’s share of the tab will be higher,” said Conor Sweeney, a spokesman for Ryan.

Sweeney said that the CBO overestimated the cost of adding a prescription drug plan to Medicare by 40 percent because its models underestimate the impact of competition and incentives. A recent study published by the Commonwealth Fund backs up this assertion, citing three examples, including the prescription drug plan, in which the CBO underestimated the savings from reforms.

“The agency has difficulty addressing the impact of multi­ple changes made simultaneously without historical precedent where there is an interaction effect among proposed changes,” wrote analyst Jon R. Gabel.

Kessler responds to the inherent uncertainties of projecting how complex policies play out this way:

Of course, some might argue that it is better for the official congressional scorekeeper to be conservative in its estimates, allowing for a pleasant surprise in the future, rather than leaving taxpayers with an unexpected bill.

At this point, Kessler is not checking facts or even assessing projections, but giving an argument about how the CBO ought to score policy. Moreover, Kessler’s argument does not account for how the CBO actually scores policy. For example, the CBO puts out an alternative fscal scenario, which most understand is more realistic than the budget projections it makes under the rules dictated by Congress. One might argue that the CBO frequently underestimates the cost of government entitlements and the savings to be achieved by more market-oriented approaches. But that’s an argument, not fact-checking.

In contrast, in assessing a January 2011 Congressional debate, here’s what the stalwart fact-checker had to say about the CBO numbers on ObamaCare:

In many ways, the focus on the numbers is silly. The CBO has a respectable track record, but CBO’s numbers are based on models, and models can be flawed. No one really knows exactly what the impact of legislative changes will be ten years from now, let alone how population growth, economic growth or other factors ultimately will affect the bottom line. It would be more logical to offer a range, but CBO is expected to produce an actual number.

Nevertheless, after downplaying the certainty of CBO’s numbers, Kessler later opined on GOP complaints about ObamaCare’s cost:

Dig beneath the numbers and Boehner and his Republican co-horts have a point that the figures are suspect. But this is a game that both parties have played, and crocodile tears now should not obscure the many times Republicans have resorted to the same tactics in the past. The CBO number is the playing field that both sides use. And Democrats (of whom Weiner is just one example) should not be perfoming such tricks with the numbers either.

There is something to be said for having a common playing field. However, the excessive gaming of CBO estimates to sell legislation will lead to a poisonous political process and likely to bad policy. As bad as it is for Kessler to confuse CBO estimates with facts, it is far worse when Congress does it.

Kessler ultimately gives away the game on CBO estimates of ObamaCare’s cost at the end of the January post:

The tenuous nature of these estimates makes it silly and counter productive to assert that the health care legislation ever was considered a deficit-reduction bill in the first place. It was a law designed to reduce the number of uninsured Americans and (with a little luck) rein in medical costs. Politicians should not pretend otherwise.

Of course, the entire Democratic establishment, from Pres. Obama on down, plus most of the media did pretend ObamaCare would reduce the deficit… and many still do. If you’re wondering whether the WaPo fact-checker addressed Democrats’ claims about ObamaCare before it was passed, wonder no longer: the WaPo fact-checker blog was on hiatus from the last day of the 2008 election campaign through January 9, 2011. Apparently, when the federal government is run entirely by a supermajority of Democrats, there is no need for fact-checking.


Related Posts:

Breaking on Hot Air

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

Apparently, when the federal government is run entirely by a supermajority of Democrats, there is no need for fact-checking.

Bingo!
Great post, Karl.

OmahaConservative on April 30, 2011 at 2:37 PM

wonder no longer: the WaPo fact-checker blog was on hiatus from the last day of the 2008 election campaign through January 11, 2008.

I think you mean through January 9, 2011.

ButterflyDragon on April 30, 2011 at 2:42 PM

I think you mean through January 9, 2011.

ButterflyDragon on April 30, 2011 at 2:42 PM

Correction made. Thanks!

Karl on April 30, 2011 at 2:45 PM

Kessler is a partisan hack, nothing more. Just seeing the archive page is eye opening.

If anyone ever doubted a liberal bias in any way, all they have to do is see that archive page and all doubts would be washed away.

ButterflyDragon on April 30, 2011 at 2:51 PM

A bigger Pinocchio or Muenchhausen than Obama never existed, and the media enable him.

Obama will not win reelection if he loses Pennsylvania.

What is happening is a series of interrelated developments. Many of the objective economic conditions of the country are getting worse. The country’s mood is darkening. And support for the president, and especially his policies, is dropping to dangerously low levels.

The president can hold as many town halls as he wants. He can attack Republicans to his heart’s content. He may be, as his supporters insist, hyper-rational, the very model of the complex, nuanced thinker, perhaps even “the smartest guy ever to become president.” He can be charming on Oprah. He can do lots of things. But one thing he cannot do is escape the consequences of his actions. And if the economy remains flat on its back—if things don’t pick up significantly between now and the summer of 2012—then the odds are quite high that we’re looking at a one-term president.

Schadenfreude on April 30, 2011 at 3:02 PM

So WAPO’s fact check of Ryan’s budget was “faulty.” Is anyone, and I mean anyone, surprised that a publication that publishes Klein, Dionne, and Milbank got their “fact check” of a Republican’s work wrong?

stuartm650 on April 30, 2011 at 3:11 PM

I’m confused. DNC House Organ & Sycophant Central, aka, The Washington Post, twists, lies, and mis-represents facts when reporting about what someone opposed to The Won has said. I admit to being old and stupid, but please explain to me (yet again) why that rises to the level of “news”?

The Leftist bias of the Lame Stream Media is so well established in history that it appears to be documented in recently discovered Sumerian cuneiform tablets.

oldleprechaun on April 30, 2011 at 3:34 PM

“Apparently, when the federal government is run entirely by a supermajority of Democrats, there is no need for fact-checking.”

Thanks goodness we have a “Free and Independent” press…

… Oh, wait!

Seven Percent Solution on April 30, 2011 at 3:56 PM

The tenuous nature of these estimates makes it silly and counter productive to assert that the health care legislation ever was considered a deficit-reduction bill in the first place.

This guy is full of shit! It was ASSERTED by Obama, Pelosi and Reid that ObamaCare would DRIVE DOWN COSTS.

GarandFan on April 30, 2011 at 3:59 PM

One should give a lot of consideration to where some of the insurance companies’ administrative costs goes. That is to prevent fraudulent payments. Medicare has a sorry record of doing so. This is one area prevention of fraud and abuse would save billions.

Oleta on April 30, 2011 at 4:02 PM

If Washington D.C. is the cesspool we know it is, then the Washington Post is the fecal matter circulating within it. With Cohen, Milbank and Robinson you have three of the biggest liars in journalism.. Their bigoted propaganda is so contemptible its nauseating. Journalism died with them decades ago. We used to line our cat’s litter box with the Post, but even the cat wouldn’t urinate on it.

volsense on April 30, 2011 at 5:01 PM

That is to prevent fraudulent payments. Medicare has a sorry record of doing so. This is one area prevention of fraud and abuse would save billions.

Oleta on April 30, 2011 at 4:02 PM

Funny you should mention that. The following is lifted from The Patriot Post website at

http://patriotpost.us/edition/2011/04/29/digest/

If you’re so inclined, you can read more at their site. If you’re not a subscriber, I recommend it highly.

Federal agencies reported making $125 billion in improper payments in 2010, 94 percent of which came from social spending programs. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) defines improper payments as outlays that are overpayments, underpayments, or insufficiently documented payments, including, but not always, fraudulent claims. The $125 billion was spread across 70 different programs in 20 federal agencies. The bulk of the problem showed up in areas such as — surprise — Medicare ($34 billion), Medicaid ($22 billion), and unemployment insurance ($17.5 billion).

To put the $125 billion worth of improper payments in perspective, according to the Treasury Department, the entire State Department spent just over $11 billion in 2010, the Justice Department spent $16 billion, and NASA spent $17 billion. In other words, last year it cost more for the government to absorb fraud and poor accounting practices than it did to implement our foreign policy (such as it is), administer justice at a federal level, and fund our entire space program. The GAO said that the high total of improper payments was a result of the government’s spending more money. This makes the solution to this problem even more obvious — cut spending.

When the numbers sink in, they are simply staggering. And yet there are those who tell us the Fedzilla Budget cannot be reduced.

oldleprechaun on April 30, 2011 at 5:12 PM

oldleprechaun, I subscribe to Patriot Post but haven’t read this week’s issues as yet. I based my statement on 20 plus years with Social Security Adm and seeing how Medicare works or doesn’t. My first years with SSA we had to process much of Medicare’s work. You couldn’t make them investigate fraud. I see no evidence they have changed.

Oleta on April 30, 2011 at 6:13 PM

Nicely written post, Karl.

jaime on April 30, 2011 at 8:01 PM

Oleta on April 30, 2011 at 6:13 PM

My only contact with Medicare was trying to report double billing by a hospital when my father-in-law died some years ago. I kept calling, trying to talk with someone and get them to take action. They stalled me for months and finally informed me that time had expired for investigating. The proverbial straw was the statement from the woman at Medicare with whom I spoke. When she said, “Sir I don’t know what your so upset about, it’s the governments money.”, I admit, I lost it and became less than congenial. Typical Fedzilla worker mind-set. And you are so right, they wouldn’t look at fraud for any reason.

oldleprechaun on April 30, 2011 at 8:11 PM

When she said, “Sir I don’t know what your so upset about, it’s the governments money.”

oldleprechaun

Disturbing on a number of levels.

Leviathan delenda est.

chimney sweep on April 30, 2011 at 8:38 PM

Ryan cuts the deficit by lowering taxes, under the idea that it will raise revenue (something it clearly did not do over the past 10 years). He refuses to acknowledge that Social Security and Medicare are going under because no tax is paid on it for income over $100,000 (putting a 1% tax on that income makes the problem go away). He also operates under the assumption that his plan only works if unemployment drops to 2.8% by 2015, a number 2.2% lower than full employment. Has he ever taken an economics class? Explains why the only people who like this guy are people who have no idea what they are talking about.

Rainsford on April 30, 2011 at 9:32 PM

Hey, your high school football team is 1-12, they’re playing the #1 team in the county. Your Cheerleaders are out there hollaring “fight team fight, beat #1″ with big smiles on their face when they know, deep down, you have a snowballs chance. This is the LSM right now. They’re out there trying to salvage Obamacare, salvage the Democrats in Congress, who they know have put too much debt on the country, and supporting the President, who they know, deep down inside, is in way over his head. What do you expect from them, fact checking??

By the time Obama is out of office our press corps, both print and broadcast, will have no credibility left, with the public. It’s really a shame because now it’s become so obvious they should just take a step back and stop doing it, but they can’t help themselves. They’re the cheerleaders, not the press corps.

bflat879 on April 30, 2011 at 10:11 PM

Ryan cuts the deficit by lowering taxes, under the idea that it will raise revenue (something it clearly did not do over the past 10 years)
Rainsford on April 30, 2011 at 9:32 PMRainsford on April 30, 2011 at 9:32 PM

This is classic liberal spin. If you lower rates but offset the revenue loss by closing loopholes, special breaks and other deductions you are not “lowering taxes”, you are incentivizing work and investment by lowering marginal rates.

Another similar liberal canard is static budgeting which assumes lower tax rates don’t encourage greater investment or more work effort and also assumes that higher tax rates do not discourage investment or effort. They assume here that insurance companies will not do anything to reduce fraud or that competition among companies will not incentivize efficiency more than an indifferent government monopoly.

KW64 on April 30, 2011 at 10:21 PM