Fox News' Peter Johnson Jr., used a severely ill girl to smear health care reform with falsehoods.
After spending months on a pediatric donor list without success, on June 12, Sarah Murnaghan, a 10 year old diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, received a needed lung transplant. This follows her family's successfully petition to the Department of Health and Human Services and the federal judiciary to have her placed on an adult transplant list. Murnaghan was initially placed a pediatric organ transplant wait list as opposed to an adult transplant wait list, due to her age. NYU medical ethicist Art Caplan explained the purpose behind different transplant lists to USA Today: "Adult lungs don't fit well in children's bodies, and that makes it hard to transplant them. You are looking at using a piece of lung instead of a whole lung, and that makes it makes it a more difficult procedure and less likely to work." Fox's Peter Johnson, Jr., took a personal interest in Murnaghan's attempt to be placed on an adult transplant list.
Johnson politicized Murnaghan's difficult situation by dubiously asserting that her difficulty with receiving the lung would be commonplace once health care reform is fully implemented. He baselessly reasoned that the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a board created by the health care reform law and designed to contain Medicare costs would deny some people the health care they need, claiming that this was his "fear going forward":
JOHNSON Jr.: I think the lesson of Sarah, the Murnaghan and the Ruddock family is that a lot of us, going forward are going to face this type of travail. When you have advisory boards like the organ advisory board, when you have independent advisory boards that are created by Congress under Obamacare to reduce Medicare, when you have boards appointed by the Secretary of Health and Human Service, when you politicize medicine, girls like Sarah, boys like Javier Acosta may die when they shouldn't die. And so that's really the lesson of Sarah.
And the question that we all face as Americans going forward, are we going to have to hire lawyers? Are we going to have to call people at Fox News? Are we going to have to stand out in front of hospitals and in front of Washington offices and say, please give us the health care that the doctors say we can provide, but you are holding back. That is my fear going forward. So a lot on the left are saying 'oh you want to make this about death panels. Sarah would've died, but for public attention and a pro bono law firm. And so I'm afraid what we're facing as a result of Obamacare is new Obamacare courts where hundreds of thousands of Americans will have to go into court and get the health care that they need. That's my great fear this morning.
Contrary to what Johnson says, IPAB is prohibited by law from making "any recommendation to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits" for Medicare recipients. Indeed, PolitiFact Ohio found the claim that IPAB "can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments to be a "pants-on-fire" level falsehood.
In using Sarah Murnaghan's situation to attack Obamacare, Johnson Jr. does the very thing he decried; he "politicize[d] medicine."
The Las Vegas Review-Journal hyped the need for entitlement reform, calling for an increase in eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare, means-testing or tying benefits to a beneficiary's income, and competition for Medicare. However, the Review-Journal neglected to mention that health care cost growth has been slowing down and that enacting these policy prescriptions would hurt seniors and low-income Americans.
A Fox News analyst invoked the discredited "death panels" myth to stoke fears that cancer clinics are turning away patients as a result of the 2010 health care reform law, even as those clinics say they are being forced to turn away patients because of automatic across-the-board budget cuts that took effect last month.
On April 3, Sarah Kliff of The Washington Post's WonkBlog reported that thousands of cancer patients will be turned away from clinics for chemotherapy treatment because of automatic cuts to Medicare:
Cancer clinics across the country have begun turning away thousands of Medicare patients, blaming the sequester budget cuts.
Oncologists say the reduced funding, which took effect for Medicare on April 1, makes it impossible to administer expensive chemotherapy drugs while staying afloat financially.
Patients at these clinics would need to seek treatment elsewhere, such as at hospitals that might not have the capacity to accommodate them.
On April 5, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. appeared on Fox & Friends to discuss the story and blamed not only sequestration, but President Obama's health care reform law, saying: "This is about people dying as a result of Obamacare and as a result of the sequester." Johnson then claimed that Medicare growth reduction, which is in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), would lead to similar problems for Medicare patients. Later, Johnson used this situation to push the right-wing myths about "death panels" under the ACA.
Johnson's claim that the ACA resulted in cancer patients losing chemotherapy treatment is groundless. The Post's Kliff explained in her post how sequestration is solely responsible for this reduction in care:
Legislators meant to partially shield Medicare from the automatic budget cuts triggered by the sequester, limiting the program to a 2 percent reduction -- a fraction of the cuts seen by other federal programs.
But oncologists say the cut is unexpectedly damaging for cancer patients because of the way those treatments are covered.
Medications for seniors are usually covered under the optional Medicare Part D, which includes private insurance. But because cancer drugs must be administered by a physician, they are among a handful of pharmaceuticals paid for by Part B, which covers doctor visits and is subject to the sequester cut.
Karl Rove hypocritically referred to an ad highlighting how a recent House Republican budget would harm seniors who rely on Medicare as "Mediscare" demagoguery, ignoring his own PAC's misleading Medicare-based attack on a Democrat during the 2012 election cycle.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released ads on April 1 highlighting the ramifications of the fiscal year 2014 budget proposed by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan (WI) and passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The ads accurately claim that the budget would cut Medicare and harm seniors.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities recently found that the Ryan budget would "cut Medicare spending by $356 billion," as well as "shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries," and could leave many 65 and 66 year olds without health insurance.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, however, Karl Rove dismissed this ad as "demagoguery" and "deeply dishonest":
The midterm election is still 19 months away, but for some it's never too early for demagoguery. And so this week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a new "Mediscare" ad. The targets are 17 Republican congressmen who supported the House budget framework that includes Medicare reforms.
The ad has menacing music, doomsday predictions and a tagline that these GOP congressmen voted for "a radical vision for America" that guts Medicare. The spot is deceitful but still deserves a swift, powerful rebuttal. Even a deeply dishonest attack on Medicare, if unrefuted, can do damage.
In his critique of the "Mediscare" ad, Rove ignored his own political group's Medicare-based attack ad. American Crossroads ran a misleading ad during the 2012 election cycle attacking Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson (FL) for supposedly harming seniors by voting for "massive cuts to Medicare" to the tune of $700 billion by voting for health care reform.
Contrary to the ad's claim, health care reform did not cut Medicare. As an August 2012 ABC News post explained, the supposed "cuts" to Medicare was actually the slowing of Medicare's future growth by "getting rid of fraud and ending overpayments to private insurance companies." Gail Wilensky, a former administrator of the Medicare program under President George H. W. Bush, made clear in a June 2012 Bloomberg article that this growth control would not result in "reductions in the Medicare benefits promised in the law."
The Wall Street Journal criticized the health care reform law for limiting government subsidies that fund private health insurance for seniors -- a key aspect of the Medicare Advantage program -- while ignoring the program's failure to contain health care costs. The Journal has repeatedly called for entitlement cuts yet remains a stalwart defender of Medicare Advantage, despite the fact that economists argue that the program is inefficient.
Medicare Advantage, created in 2003, offers seniors access to private insurers that contract with Medicare to provide benefits. The government gives insurers subsidies for offering the same coverage seniors would receive under Medicare.
The Journal, which endorsed Medicare Advantage when it was founded in 2003, continued to defend the program despite the newspaper's frequent calls to contain government spending through entitlement cuts and other cuts, and despite its repeated attacks on the Obama administration's attempts at reducing government health care costs. From the Journal:
The cuts translate into lower benefits, higher premiums or both, and the liberal goal is to induce seniors and insurers to flee the program, much as Bill Clinton starved the Advantage forerunner known as Medicare+Choice in the 1990s. Yet for the past several years enrollment has climbed at an 8% to 10% clip annually, versus 3% for normal fee-for-service Medicare.
The Administration can't abide that Medicare Advantage is stealing customers from government control, while also exposing the failure of traditional Medicare's cost control. Medicare Advantage shows that more dynamic and efficient private alternatives can generate better health-care value than a room of wise men deciding how the government should pay for tens of thousands of services.
But Medicare Advantage has proven to be more costly for the federal government than Medicare. In an October 2012 New York Times Economix blog post, economist Dana Goldman explained that while Medicaid Advantage offers some savings for seniors when compared to Medicare, it costs the federal government much more than Medicare:
Similarly, a Washington Post Wonkblog post noted that since its inception in 2004, Medicare Advantage has been paying private insurers more than Medicare has had to pay for its beneficiaries. The post provided the below graph:
Health care reform attempted to reduce this cost disparity by reducing the government's excessive payments to private insurers participating in Medicare Advantage and rewarding insurers who earn high performance ratings. The Commonwealth Fund, citing the Congressional Budget Office, found that health care reform will bring the cost of Medicare Advantage down and save $132 billion over 10 years. And Factcheck.org noted that changes to Medicare Advantage would not result in its enrollees receiving fewer benefits than Medicare enrollees.
Fox News pushed long-debunked myths about health care reform in order to promote Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) reported plans to repeal the law as part of his upcoming budget.
From the March 7 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the March 6 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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On MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough continued to harp on Medicare and deficit spending as a pressing economic problem and twice claimed that "liberals are denying math" to avoid tackling the issue. However, economists widely disagree with that assessment, suggesting that it is Scarborough, not liberals, who has a weak understanding of math.
On the February 12 edition of Morning Joe, Scarborough, who has previously hit Paul Krugman on his view of long-term debt and attempted to discredit the Nobel Prize winning economist for defending Medicare, claimed that "liberals should want to reform middle class entitlements" so as to not "steal from welfare programs...for the poorest Americans."
Scarborough's attempt to paint Medicare as one of America's most pressing issues completely misses the point behind its current problems. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich points out that Medicare, rather than being the "problem," is actually to solution to the real issue -- rising health care costs. Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, even goes as far as to say that Medicare is "by far the most efficient part of the national healthcare system."
Indeed, evidence suggests that Medicare provides a more economically viable delivery system for healthcare. According to both the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute, Medicare is better than the private sector at controlling costs, and projections of future cost growth in public health care programs are lower than those for private sector.
Furthermore, many economists, including Reich and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, note that Medicare can use its bargaining leverage to negotiate prices of medical procedures and prescription drugs. In fact, according to economist Jared Bernstein, provisions in the Affordable Care Act -- many of which have not yet been implemented -- will help control costs of healthcare, brightening the prospects for sustainable Medicare.
In addition to being wrong on Medicare, Scarborough claimed that those who disagree with him on today's deficits amount to just a few "bloggers eating Cheetos," implying that the majority opinion is on his side and that "the American people know" he's right about spending.
Scarborough displayed the same willful ignorance of economic discourse in his January Politico op-ed, "Paul Krugman vs. the world." Economists like Mark Thoma, Brad DeLong, Jared Bernstein, Dean Baker, Henry Aaron, Alan Blinder and Larry Summers agree that deficits are not worthy of concern, so long as economic output lags behind its potential, as do former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett and John Makin of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal lists a few others.
The simplest math is this: at least 15 experts, including 13 economists, a congressman, and a Reagan budget adviser, reject Scarborough's argument.
The Congressional Budget Office's new baseline projections back Krugman as well: The CBO found that the sharp rise in debt-to-GDP that Scarborough laments has stopped, and that the ratio of public debt to economic output will hold at or near its current level for the next decade. Further, the report notes a trillion-dollar gap between actual and potential economic output. The CBO doesn't explicitly state policy recommendations, but Rex Nutting of the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch noted that the report amounts to a call for four more years of high deficits.
This wealth of professional economists and empirical facts may explain an apparent shift in Scarborough's argument from the February 12 segment, in which he said even Krugman's supporters "agree with me that deficits aren't the problem, the long-term debt is the problem." If Scarborough believes that deficits aren't a problem, then what does he think he and the entire mainstream of the economics profession are arguing about? Throughout the recent weeks' debate, Scarborough has attacked deficits, and conflated them with the long-term debt. He blamed "a Keynesian spending spree" for slowed economic growth in late 2012, and bragged in Politico of his sterling deficit-hawk track record dating back to 1994.
It is true that the economists making the textbook argument for running deficits today also note that deficits will need to be controlled in the medium-near future. Jared Bernstein refers to this conceptual balance as being a CDSH: a cyclical dove and a structural hawk. Is Scarborough now looking to join that club, by declaring support for near-term deficits coupled with restraint in the middle distance? If so, Krugman, and his fellow "math-challenged" supporters, would be justified in declaring victory.
The decision by television news producers to rely on political guests and reporter-pundits in their coverage of the recent debt ceiling dispute not only pulled focus away from economic reality, it also gave TV media influencers room to reinforce a key falsehood about the nature of our deficits.
A Media Matters study of 273 cable news segments on the debt ceiling found 55 segments attributing deficits primarily to entitlement program spending, compared to just four segments acknowledging that rising health care costs and the economic collapse are to blame.
Economists are clear about the primary sources of recent deficits -- on top of the Bush tax cuts, the Great Recession triggered massively higher counter-cyclical spending, some of which was automatic for things like jobless benefits and food stamps, and some spending that was newly enacted to buoy a collapsing economy. Middle- and long-term deficit projections are more controversial, but many economists argue that once economic growth catches up to its potential, our fiscal health will depend almost entirely on our ability to control health care costs. This mainstream economist perspective appeared in just 1.4 percent of the debt ceiling segments Media Matters reviewed from a three week period, while over 20 percent of those segments blamed entitlements for the fiscal gloom.
CNBC, Fox News, and Fox Business viewers were far more likely to be told that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are dimming America's fiscal horizon than those who tuned into CNN or MSNBC for their debt ceiling coverage:
The tendency by the most conservative networks to focus on entitlement spending is telling in light of the right's claims about a struggle between "takers" and "makers." For conservative outlets and their mainstream enablers, each successive skirmish over spending and debt is an opportunity to re-focus the conversation on the supposed need to cut entitlement spending.
If economic experts were included in that cable news conversation, they could reveal some key data. For example, conservative proposals for Medicare would likely accelerate the growth of health care costs; minute changes to the payroll tax system could make Social Security solvent for 70 years; and "entitlement" programs spur economic growth for everyone.
In recent weeks, media outlets have focused heavily on negotiations regarding raising the debt ceiling. But television news has failed to highlight the pressing need for stronger economic growth. Furthermore, discussions about the debt ceiling often ignore facts about deficits, instead pivoting the focus to entitlements as a driver of deficits.
Charles Krauthammer accused President Obama of "reactionary liberalism" in his inaugural address for supporting Medicare, which Krauthammer described as "increasingly obsolete." But Krauthammer has attacked Obama and Democrats in the past for what he falsely described as efforts to cut or destroy the program.
In a column posted at the Washington Post and FoxNews.com, Krauthammer claimed Obama's inaugural address "was a paean to big government" that attempted to "defend unyieldingly the 20th-century welfare state" and "expand it unrelentingly for the 21st." As evidence, Krauthammer pointed to Obama's pledge to safeguard Medicare:
The first part of that agenda -- clinging zealously to the increasingly obsolete structures of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- is the very definition of reactionary liberalism. Social Security was created when life expectancy was 62. Medicare was created when modern medical technology was in its infancy. Today's radically different demographics and technology have rendered these programs, as structured, unsustainable. Everyone knows that, unless reformed, they will swallow up the rest of the budget.
But Krauthammer previously attacked President Obama and Democrats for what he falsely claimed were cuts to Medicare in the Affordable Care Act, and defended Rep. Paul Ryan's controversial budget from claims that it did the same.
The right-wing media are claiming that the "liberal agenda" President Obama outlined in his second inaugural address is out of the mainstream, even though polling has shown that the majority of Americans agree with Obama's stances on marriage equality, sustainable energy, and other issues.
Fox News host Neil Cavuto and Fox guest Stephen Moore agreed that President Obama is wrong to suggest that federal spending growth is driven by health care costs, when in fact Obama is right. Health care spending is the only category of federal spending projected to grow substantially over the next two decades, and government health insurance is actually more efficient than private sector insurance. And the president's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act contains provisions that aims to contain and reduce national health care costs.
Ted Nugent called for the suspension of the right to vote for "any American who is on welfare" as part of his proposal to reduce federal budget deficits outlined in his latest Washington Times column.
The National Rifle Association board member also called for "slaughtering the three sacred entitlement cows" of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and called for tax increases on "the nearly 50 percent of Americans who pay zero federal income taxes." Nugent wrote that these policies should be instituted "before taxes are raised on the producers, which will further choke the economy."
From Nugent's column:
The three sacred entitlement cows in the room that no politician wants to poke are Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. A blinding statement of the obvious is that we are never going to get our financial house in order until these sacred entitlement cows are not only poked, but slaughtered. Until the slaughter is over, everything else is just taxation window dressing.
In addition to slaughtering the three sacred entitlement cows that consume a vast majority of the federal budget (and I use the term budget generously), let's truly spread the pain around and raise taxes on everyone, including the nearly 50 percent of Americans who pay zero federal income taxes. Those Americans need to have some skin in the game, too. I recommend at least a 5 percent federal income tax bracket for them. The insane free ride needs to end. [...]
Let's also stop the insanity by suspending the right to vote of any American who is on welfare. Once they get off welfare and are self-sustaining, they get their right to vote restored. No American on welfare should have the right to vote for tax increases on those Americans who are working and paying taxes to support them. That's insane. [...]
It shouldn't take a Motown guitar slayer to come up with these common-sense bargaining chips before taxes are raised on the producers, which will further choke the economy. How about it, GOP?