MEDICARE MUDDLE: Jackie Calmes refuses to speak!


Part 4—Krugman praises her ways: Why does Mitt Romney keep saying those things about the Medicare program?

Why does he keep saying that Obama has “stolen” $716 billion from the program’s trust fund—that he has used this stolen money to fund Obamacare?

Last night, Dick Morris answered that question on the O’Reilly Factor. There was nothing new in what Morris said. By now, a million Fox pundits have answered that question in the same (accurate) way.

Morris’ statement was clear and concise—and his statement was accurate. This is why Romney keeps saying those things about the Medicare program:
MORRIS (8/22/12): The reason the economy hasn't been the number one issue is because Medicare has been the number one issue. And Ryan has done a spectacular job of using the piggy-bank metaphor. You're robbing—you're using it as a piggy-bank, Medicare as a piggy-bank to fund Obamacare.

And that metaphor makes everybody understand it really well. And it takes a Republican vulnerability and makes it into a tremendous strength. And it takes the aspect of Obamacare that is most offensive, that it's going to lead to rationing of healthcare to the elderly, and it puts it front and center.
Duh. As a million Fox analysts have explained, Romney is painting a very unhappy picture. This is his damning portrait:

Middle-class people have paid into Medicare all through their working lives. In this way, they thought they were funding their health care as seniors. But Obama has taken a big sack of that money—$716 billion! He has used that money to provide health insurance to 30 million other people.

Because Obama has taken that money, Medicare services will be reduced to current recipients—to the people who paid into the program all through their working lives.

That’s the picture Romney is painting. In last Thursday’s Washington Post, Rosalind Helderman quoted Batman and Robin as they kept making those charges:
HELDERMAN (8/16/121): On Wednesday, Romney accused President Obama of siphoning Medicare dollars to fund his 2010 health-care law, and he promised to restore that money if elected.


Romney promised that if elected, he would restore the money to the program as a way to bolster it for current retirees.

"My commitment is, if I become president, I'm going to restore that $716 billion to the Medicare trust fund so that current seniors can know that trust fund is not being raided," Romney said on CBS News's "This Morning.”


"We're going to have this debate, and we're going to win this debate," [Paul] Ryan said. "It's the president who took $716 billion...from the Medicare program to spend on Obamacare. That's cuts to current seniors that will lead to less services for current seniors. We don't do that. We actually say end the raid and restore that, so that those seniors get the benefits today that they organize their lives around.”
If true, those would be serious charges. That would be serious stuff.

But are those charges actually true? Did Obama take $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund? Did he use that big sack of cash to pay for something else?

Those are blindingly obvious questions. But all across the mainstream press corps, news reporters have worked quite hard to avoid giving you answers. Yesterday, Paul Krugman went out of his way to praise one of those scribes. Details below; just click here.

Romney has made a serious charge—but is it actually accurate? Did Obama take $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund?

That charge by Romney is very straightforward. There’s nothing murky about it at all.

And omigod! Yesterday, a major journalist finally spoke to that charge! We refer to Gene Lyons, who published his weekly opinion column for The National Memo.

Romney’s charge just isn’t true, Lyons directly said. According to Lyons, Obama hasn’t taken a dime out of the Medicare trust fund:
LYONS (8/22/12): Romney’s also smart enough to know that not a single dime has been robbed, stolen or otherwise removed from the Medicare trust fund. Indeed, its life has been extended. Nobody’s benefits have been altered in any way.

That’s a lie so craven and demagogic you’d think even Mitt Romney would be embarrassed.

What the Affordable Care Act does do is something conservatives have long clamored for: It cuts, not benefits, but Medicare’s future costs by roughly 10 percent (or $700 billion) over a ten year period by a) Reducing corporate subsidies to insurance companies administering Medicare Advantage plans, and b) Slowing the rate of growth in payments to hospitals.

Furthermore, the health care industry agreed to these changes during negotiations over the new law: Insurance companies because they’re gaining millions of new customers; hospitals because Obamacare virtually eliminates their huge problem of non-paying patients.
As an opinion writer, Lyons called Romney’s charge a lie. A reporter for a major newspaper couldn’t (and shouldn’t) do that.

That said, Lyons made a direct statement: Obama didn’t rob, steal or otherwise remove that money from the trust fund. Obama hasn’t taken a dime from the fund, Lyons directly said.

Indeed, Obama has extended the life of the Medicare trust fund, Lyons directly said. It’s hard to know how Obama could do that if he’s been stealing the trust fund's money.

Because we aren’t economists here, we can’t vouch for the perfect accuracy of every syllable Lyons wrote—although it’s our general assumption that he’s basically right. But good lord! At long last, someone addressed that serious charge—the basic charge Romney keeps making!

At the Washington Post and the New York Times, reporters have been working hard for two weeks to avoid that onerous task. Consider the journalist Krugman praised—Jackie Calmes, his New York Times colleague.

For what it’s worth, we think of Calmes as one of the press corps’ decent, sane reporters. But in our view, she began her report with some familiar slip-sliding:
CALMES (8/22/12): Mitt Romney’s promise to restore $716 billion that he says President Obama “robbed” from Medicare has some health care experts puzzled, and not just because his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan, included the same savings in his House budgets.

The 2010 health care law cut Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and insurers, not benefits for older Americans, by that amount over the coming decade. But repealing the savings, policy analysts say, would hasten the insolvency of Medicare by eight years—to 2016, the final year of the next presidential term, from 2024.
In our view, Calmes was refusing to serve—refusing to tell you the truth. This seems to be New York Times policy.

Calmes began by quoting Romney’s charge: Obama has robbed $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund!

Is that claim accurate? Calmes didn’t say. Instead, she said the claim has “some” health care experts “puzzled.”

In Calmes’ second paragraph, we’d say the avoidance continues—and you have to read with considerable care to figure out what she is saying. She says Obama cut reimbursements to health care providers by the amount Romney cites. He didn’t cut benefits to Medicare recipients, she says at this point.

Does this contradict Romney’s claim—his claim that current retirees will lose benefits because of Obama’s act of theft? Calmes didn’t cite that second charge. This lets her avoid this question.

What does it take to make these people address Romney’s basic charges? As she continues in paragraph 2, Calmes presents a jumbled, confusing form of a very common assertion: Obamacare has extended the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight years.

True or not, that’s a simple statement; Calmes jumbles it up. According to Calmes, policy analysts say the insolvency of the trust fund will be hastened by eight years if Obama’s cuts in reimbursements are repealed. That’s a convoluted version of what Lyons said in clear direct simple speech:
Lyons: Obamacare has extended the life of the trust fund.
Calmes: Some analysts say the life of the trust fund will be reduced by eight years if Obamacare is repealed.
Does this mean that Romney is wrong in alleging the theft of that money? Calmes still hasn’t said! And sure enough! She never does say, not at any point in this piece.

Neither did the timorous Helderman, refusing to serve at the Washington Post last week.

It seems like the world’s simplest statement: Barack Obama took $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund! As presented by Romney, it’s a serious charge. Last night, Morris explained what many people think that serious charge really means.

That said, is the charge by Romney true? Did Obama take that money? Did he spend it on something else?

That first question is quite simple; yesterday, Lyons answered quite directly. But go ahead—read the Post and the Times! Read Helderman, Calmes and Pear and Nagourney and the rest of our major “reporters.” Did Obama steal that money?

Romney has made a serious charge. It's a very straightforward charge. See if you can find even one of these servants saying if his charge is accurate.

Has Obama taken that money out of the trust fund? Calmes avoided that question again. Krugman praised her ways.

Tomorrow: Why would Lyons say that?


  1. Apparently everyone has given up on bothering to criticize Fox News. It's simple: has Fox News put on, and given equal weight to, anyone explaining why the claim that the Trust Fund was robbed is false? The answer, of course is no, which, by definition, means Fox News is not a news network. Why do we let the mainstream media continue to treat Fox News as if it is not a pure propaganda organ?

  2. Quaker in a BasementAugust 23, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    The classics just never get old, do they? For those who aren't familiar with Mr. Somerby's early work, this rhetorical shell game over Medicare takes us right back to Day One.

    The play Romney is running is the same one Newt Gingrich ran in his face-off against Bill Clinton:

    Cuts in costs.
    Cuts in benefits.

    They're both "cuts," see?


  3. Why? The same reason we continue to treat MSNBC as if were a legitimate news channel.

  4. --*The 2010 health care law cut Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and insurers, not benefits for older Americans*--

    I get it. It's not the government cutting the benefits of "older Americans", but those rascally "hospitals and insurers" who will do the nasty at the far end of their reduced "reimbursements".

    Can you tell me again why the government is in the health care biz? And what real difference there is between Obama and Romney? Is all politics now reduced to the nuances of central planning?

    1. Because Krugman said so? Please. His assertions are not backed up with "evidence", even though he claims they are. It's all supposition. Health care is a commodity like any other, and wishing it weren't doesn't make it not so. For instance, the claim that the health care law doesn't cut Medicare "benefits". In the end it does, because the free market still works, as it has to, even from under government's big boot.

    2. I wasn't making an appeal to Krugman's authority, rather I directed you to where he makes an argument against relying upon free market solutions to provide health care for the general population. Krugman cites and links to Kenneth Arrow's work on the subject. You could look over Arrow's paper, but you won't, will you?

      Additionally, I'll mention, there are the observable examples in nearly every other OECD country to show that government involvement in providing health care to people generates more efficient results and better access for the ordinary citizen within each of those societies than the more market based segment of the health system provides for the person of ordinary means here in the United States.

    3. I'd like to see a bit of both, with insurance companies dealing directly with individuals (as opposed to their employers), AND govt vouchers and tax deductions to help defer cost.

    4. A third of the Medicare cuts that so worry Mike Soja come from Medicare Advantage subsidies. That program was an experiment that was expected to show that seniors could take what was essentially a voucher and buy private insurance rather than rely upon Medicare to be their primary payer. The results are in, the market based solution was more costly on a per person basis than traditional Medicare.

      Agree with this conclusion or not, here's the Administration's position in a 7 page pdf that links to a supporting study:

      >>>>>The government is overpaying private insurance companies. Part of the recent rise in Medicare costs – and in premiums for seniors – stems from extra subsidies to private insurance companies. Medicare Advantage is part of the Medicare program that allows beneficiaries to receive services via private plans. Policy changes, particularly in 2003, ratcheted up payment levels to private plans. The federal government pays private insurance companies on average 14 percent more for providing coverage to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries than it would pay for the same beneficiary in the traditional Medicare program. This overpayment is as high as 20 percent in certain parts of the country.^1<<<<<