MEDICARE MUDDLE: Familiar pattern!


Part 1—The Times finally makes an attempt: A familiar pattern re-emerged in Sunday’s New York Times.

There was some good news, and some bad news, involved in this re-emergence. Let’s take the good news first:

Hurrah! The New York Times actually published a detailed analysis of the ongoing Medicare discussion! To varying extents, five major topics were examined in yesterday’s analysis piece.

This attempt at clarification was long overdue. After Candidate Romney picked Candidate Ryan, Medicare came center stage in the White House campaign.

A sprawling discussion ensued. As usual, this discussion was characterized by massive confusion and groaning journalistic incompetence.

Good God! Yesterday morning, the New York Times actually tried to clarify this discussion! In this, the first part of the paper’s analysis, the Times discussed a now-famous sum of money—the $716 billion Obama is said to have “stolen:”
THE ALLEGED “RAID ON MEDICARE” A Republican attack ad says that the reform law has “cut” $716 billion from Medicare, with the money used to expand coverage to low-income people who are currently uninsured. “So now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that’s not for you,” the ad warns.

What the Republicans fail to say is that the budget resolutions crafted by Paul Ryan and approved by the Republican-controlled House retained virtually the same cut in Medicare.

In reality, the $716 billion is not a “cut” in benefits but rather the savings in costs that the Congressional Budget Office projects over the next decade from wholly reasonable provisions in the reform law.

One big chunk of money will be saved by reducing unjustifiably high subsidies to private Medicare Advantage plans that enroll many beneficiaries at a higher average cost than traditional Medicare. Another will come from reducing the annual increases in federal reimbursements to health care providers—like hospitals, nursing homes and home health agencies—to force the notoriously inefficient system to find ways to improve productivity.

And a further chunk will come from fees or taxes imposed on drug makers, device makers and insurers—fees that they can surely afford since expanded coverage for the uninsured will increase their markets and their revenues.
"The Republicans imply that the $716 billion in cuts will harm older Americans, but almost none of the savings come from reducing the benefits available for people already on Medicare," the Times said as it continued.

Incredible! In that passage, the Times tried to explain Romney’s charge concerning that $716 billion. According to the Times, no cuts in Medicare services will result from these reductions in future spending. ("The Republicans imply that the $716 billion in cuts will harm older Americans, but almost none of the savings come from reducing the benefits available for people already on Medicare," the Times said as it continued.)

Implicitly, the Times was saying that these are reductions in (unreasonable) levels of payment to health care providers within our “notoriously inefficient” health care system.

Is this analysis correct? Can we reduce future Medicare spending by that amount without reducing Medicare services? The Times can’t solve that riddle in five paragraphs. But incredibly enough, this does represent a first attempt at producing a clearer discussion.

As the Times’ analysis continued, it examined four more aspects of the current discussion. For our money, at least one of these discussions was quite weak. That would be the third sub-section, which assumed that readers would understand the distinction between “bankruptcy” and “insolvency.”

Yesterday's analysis was far from perfect. Still, the discussion of Medicare in the past few weeks has been marked by massive confusion. It’s good news when the Times starts trying to clarify basic issues.

That’s the good news: The New York Times tried to clarify some basic points about Medicare.

Now for what we’ll call the bad news: We’re quoting a Times editorial! The Times has still made little attempt at clarification within its news reporting. In yesterday’s paper, readers had to turn to an editorial to get a small measure of clarity.

How strange! You had to read an editorial to get any information at all! Quite correctly, the second commenter to this editorial noted the oddness in that:
COMMENTER FROM ILLINOIS (8/19/12): Aaah! A splash of nice clean water to the face! It's amazing what a bit of factual discourse can accomplish. But I haven't the slightest idea why this is labeled "editorial"—it's what used to be called "reporting"—that is, sorting out what's true and what isn't.
Why isn’t the Times providing this kind of analysis in its reporting? As he continued, the commenter offered his view. But whatever the explanation may be, this reader had noted a familiar pattern at the floundering Times.

We’ve mentioned this many times in the past: Increasingly, you have to turn to the Times editorial page if you want any facts or analysis! If you restrict yourself to this paper’s “reporting” of this campaign, you will receive two types of product: 1) Silly crap from its youth brigade and 2) Incoherent pseudo-analysis from its burned-out old pseudo-reporters.

To this day, the Times’ reporting of the Medicare discussion has been grotesque-beyond-bad. Last Tuesday, Adam Nagourney presented a pitiful “news report” which mainly served to repeat Romney’s charge about the sum Obama has“stolen” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/12). One day later, Robert Pear presented an incoherent follow-up piece which served to clarify nothing whatever (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/16/12).

And uh-oh! As these burn-outs have offered Times readers their utterly hapless “news reports,” the fatuous kids of the Times youth brigade have continued spooning the puddles of piddle which increasingly define the way this newspaper covers campaigns. To see Parker and Barbaro pursuing this piddle, brace yourselves, then click here.

The silly piddle you will receive appears in this morning’s Times.

In truth, yesterday’s editorial was weak on some points—but at least it made a first attempt at clarifying the massive confusion of the Medicare discussion. Medicare went center stage when Candidate Romney chose Candidate Ryan. As usual, the nation’s “reporters” and pundits have been overmatched by the claims which have emerged.

The truth is, we don’t have a “press corps” at all. The Medicare muddle has proven this point once again—and it will continue to do so.

We’ll cover the Medicare coverage all week. Don’t let the children watch.

Tomorrow: CNN’s high-profile burn-outs


  1. "So now the money you paid for your guaranteed health care is going to a massive new government program that's not for you ...."

    "The Republicans imply that the $716 billion in cuts will harm older Americans ...."


  2. Looking forward to Somerby -- who got his start explaining that slowing the growth rate in future Medicare expense is, in fact, a cut -- now explain how future cuts in Medicare won't reduce benefits.

    Every year, for example, the "doc fix" is passed so as to not impose cuts in reimbursements to Medicare providers because people know that, in the current system, such cuts in reimbursements would lead to reduced care and access.

    But, trust Obama, these savings are different. We can have savings with no benefit reductions.

    Kaiser Health Care News, discussing the $716 billion:

    But critics and some independent analysts have questioned whether cutting payments to these providers will result in a loss of quality or push some providers to refuse to participate in Medicare.

    "The question is whether reductions in payments to health care providers will impair either access to health care services or the quality of those services," a recent Brookings Institution analysis said.

    1. Funny how you fail to provide the rest of what the Brookings Institution study said:

      "After passage of the ACA, Congressional Republicans attacked the Democrats for cutting Medicare, a talking point used in many 2010 stump speeches. Yet many of these Republicans voted for Ryan’s budget, which did the same thing. Romney, meanwhile, has said that he would repeal the ACA completely, including the changes to Medicare, putting him at odds with his new running mate. Evidently, Romney's professed admiration for Ryan's budget does not extend to all its details.

      "Democrats point out that the ACA directs the savings incurred from Medicare changes back into the health system – to help pay for the Medicaid expansion, fill the “donut hole” in prescription drug coverage, and pay for more preventive services. Ryan therefore accuses Obama of robbing Medicare to pay for ObamaCare. The Democrats counter by saying that Ryan, whose plan does not specify where the savings will go, will be used to pay for his tax cuts to the wealthy and increases in military spending. While it's hard to assess the validity of this claim, it is pretty clear that Ryan would not use the revenues from Medicare changes to fund either Medicaid or domestic spending, both of which his budget cuts significantly."

      And by all means, let's discount what Obama says. But Kaiser Health Care? Has to be Gospel truth!