Campaign rhetoric, we're led to believe, can be hard to sort out. If Paul Ryan says his budget plan protects Medicare and the Democrats say it "ends" it, what should we believe? Those are the kinds of questions journalism is supposed to answer.
Which is why ABC World News' August 14 "Reality Check" on Medicare was such a failure.
Actually, the fact that it wasn't very good wasn't a total shocker. That was to be expected as soon as you heard Diane Sawyer said this:
So we asked ABC's Jon Karl for a reality check on the plan and what it would change for each of us.
Jonathan Karl is the most successful product of the Collegiate Network, a right-wing outfit that aims to plant conservative ideologues in influential news outlets. The project would have been thrilled with his lead:
The first thing you need to know about the Ryan plan is this: It does not apply to anybody who is now 55 years old or older. Today's seniors stay in the current system.
Not really. The Ryan budget repeals the Affordable Care Act; part of that law filled in the so-called "doughnut hole" in prescription drug coverage, which saves seniors money. According to Paul N. Van de Water of the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (3/28/12), "5 million Medicare beneficiaries have saved more than $3.2 billion, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)."
So under the Ryan plan many would pay more for medicine. That's a change.
The biggest problem with the Ryan plan, though, is the shift from Medicare's single-payer structure to a voucher scheme, where the government would provide seniors with money to buy a private insurance plan.
Critics of the Ryan plan–from progressive economists to the Congressional Budget Office–argue that the amount of the voucher won't actually cover the cost of healthcare, meaning that people will have to pay the difference themselves.
Karl doesn't ignore that, saying that "Ryan believes costs will come down because insurance companies will have to compete to get your Medicare dollars. That's possible. But there's no guarantee."
Not only is there no guarantee, there's little reason to believe this will happen in the real world.
But Karl spends more time on a rather far-fetched idea: Instead of costing you money, you could actually turn a profit:
For any plan that costs over $15,000, you pay the difference. If your plan costs less, you get cash back.
For example, if the plan you choose costs $14,000, you'll get a check in the mail for $1,000.
Well now that sounds pretty promising, right? It's not at all clear why Karl is even presenting this scenario. As Paul Krugman noted (New York Times, 6/5/11)
A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that to get coverage equivalent to what they have now, older Americans would have to pay vastly more out of pocket under the Paul Ryan plan than they would if Medicare as we know it was preserved. Based on the budget office estimates, the typical senior would end up paying around $6,000 more out of pocket in the plan's first year of operation.
If that's what the CBO estimates the typical senior will experience under the Ryan plan, why is Karl touting the plan as a potential source of income for seniors? ABC's reality check needs a reality check.