Medicare is not going bankrupt

Trudy Lieberman at the Columbia Journalism Review points out that CNN actually did the fact-checking that no other news org is doing on Medicare:

Hooray for, for fact checking the often-heard claim of Medicare’s “impending” bankruptcy. CNN’s contribution sets a high bar, and the network also distinguishes itself from the over-the-top fact checking that has cropped up lately, as pointed out recently by my colleague Brendan Nyhan.

The “bankruptcy” language comes up a lot. In his convention speech last week, for example, former president Bill Clinton declared that Mitt Romney’s goal to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), presumably along with its provisions that prolong the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund, would make “Medicare go broke in 2016.” And on Thursday, vice president Joe Biden said that Romney’s plan “would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.”

The word “bankrupt” is high on Romney’s list of talking points, too. A Romney spokesperson told CNN, when it asked for a response to Clinton’s charges, “Medicare will go bankrupt in 2024.” That’s when Medicare trustees now say the hospital trust fund will have a money shortfall.

But is Medicare really going bankrupt? Definitely not, says CNN. The network is correct, and the point is crucial.

How did CNN pull away from the fact-checking pack on this one? It did some old-fashioned reporting, read some financial reports, and found sources that could really give the financial skinny on Medicare. And it didn’t go for that “mostly true” or “partly misleading” stuff that some other fact checking pieces resort to, which can confuse readers more than it enlightens them.

First, CNN reported, as CJR has urged news outlets to do, that only one part of Medicare is in potential trouble—the Hospital Trust Fund, which is financed by payroll taxes. The other parts of Medicare, including Part B, which finances doctor visits, lab tests, and outpatient services, “are adequately financed for now,” Medicare trustees have said. CNN made that clear to readers.

CNN pushed further and asked a logical question that most reporters writing about Medicare have missed. When the magic date for “bankruptcy” arrives—2024 according to the Dems, or 2016 if the ACA disappears in a Romney presidency—would Medicare really disappear? Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy expert at the University of North Carolina, told CNN that repealing the health reform law “would in fact worsen Medicare’s financial condition,” but even so, he added, “Medicare is not going bankrupt. Medicare would still have most of the necessary funds to pay those expenses and other parts of the program would be unaffected. Medicare won’t go bankrupt in the literal sense in 2016 or 2024 or 2064—or ever.” The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the Medicare program, said this year that even in 2024 the Medicare hospital trust fund could still pay 87 percent of its estimated expenditures, and noted that, “in practice, Congress has never allowed a Medicare trust fund to exhaust its assets.”

Historical context is often lacking in fact-checking attempts, though the past may be prologue. CNN reached back to some Medicare history, and others should, too. The Congressional Research Service, a neutral source, and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a group that skews left of center on some issues, both have reports that place the bankruptcy claim in historical context. For four decades, both reports note, Medicare trustees have warned of insolvency, and it has never happened.

That’s not to say that Medicare’s cost explosion is not a problem. How to control cost—not just for Medicare but for al the rest of the healthcare system, too—is a central issuethat the press needs to clarify. It’s the elephant in the room.

So should voters be worried? Not about bankruptcy, as CNN so ably pointed out. But they need to understand what changes have already been made to Medicare, and what changes could occur if Romney were elected and Medicare were transformed from social insurance into a privatized system.

There’s an app for that

This is great, because you can tell all your wingnut relatives they don’t have to take your word for it, they can see for themselves who’s behind the nastiest political ads this season. And of course, it goes without saying that every journalist should be using Ad Hawk:

As an ad slamming President Obama’s tax policies prompts a YouTube video, local software developer Bob Lannon takes out his iPhone. He opens up an app, holds it to the speaker and puts his thumb to a big button in the middle of the screen. Within 25 seconds, the app returns information on the source: a conservative super PAC titled Crossroads Generation. A splash page shows information on its spending for and against candidates of either party, a history of its ad buys and a link to information on its donors.

Following campaign money has never been easier—or more important. This year has seen an unprecedented flood of negative campaign ads in swing states like Pennsylvania. In the super PAC era of politics, voters may wonder about the veracity of mean-spirited advertisements sponsored by Orwellian-sounding entities. But courtesy of a group of activist Philadelphia software developers and their collaborators at a nonprofit government watchdog: There’s an app for that.

A free app released Aug. 22 by the Sunlight Foundation—an organization that seeks to ensure government transparency—Ad Hawk works like popular music identification apps Shazam and Soundhound. You hold your iPhone or Android-based phone to an audio source, and the app links you to information about that source. It’s just one of many citizen-empowerment apps that have cropped up as election season gets under way.

9/11: When the facts didn’t fit their neocon fantasies

Astounding. This New York Times oped piece by Kurt Eichenwald says the neocon influence in the Bush White House was so all-consuming, so rigid, that when President Bush received numerous intelligence briefings about an impending attack by bin Laden, they decided it was an attempt to distract them from Saddam Hussein. Frightening, just how criminally negligent they were – and they’ve never admitted they were wrong, not even after all this time and all these people dead:

On Aug. 6, 2001, President George W. Bush received a classified review of the threats posed by Osama bin Laden and his terrorist network, Al Qaeda. That morning’s “presidential daily brief” — the top-secret document prepared by America’s intelligence agencies — featured the now-infamous heading: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” A few weeks later, on 9/11, Al Qaeda accomplished that goal.

On April 10, 2004, the Bush White House declassified that daily brief — and only that daily brief — in response to pressure from the 9/11 Commission, which was investigating the events leading to the attack. Administration officials dismissed the document’s significance, saying that, despite the jaw-dropping headline, it was only an assessment of Al Qaeda’s history, not a warning of the impending attack. While some critics considered that claim absurd, a close reading of the brief showed that the argument had some validity.

That is, unless it was read in conjunction with the daily briefs preceding Aug. 6, the ones the Bush administration would not release. While those documents are still not public, I have read excerpts from many of them, along with other recently declassified records, and come to an inescapable conclusion:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.
Continue Reading →

Catfood Commission road show here today

Go and tell them you don’t want a Grand Bargain!

Temple University

9:30 AM – 10:30 AM EST

Hosted by the Fox School of Business
Location: Alter Hall, 1801 Liacouras Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Governor Rendell is participating. AC 360 will be filming the event and it will air on Wednesday.

University of Pennsylvania

12:30 PM – 2:00 PM EST

Hosted by the Fels Institute
Location: Amado Recital Hall in Irvine Auditorium
Corner of 34th & Spruce Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Governor Rendell is participating. AC 360 will be filming the event and it will air on Wednesday.

To learn more about the event, please go here.


This weather has been intoxicating. A high of 75 today — it was just delightful. And it’s supposed to be like this until the weekend.

Site Meter