On the May 9 edition of NBC's Nightly News, NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory misleadingly claimed that "Medicare is close to reaching its goal of 39 million seniors around the country enrolled in" the Part D prescription-drug program by the deadline of May 15. In fact, only 19.7 million seniors are actually "enrolled" in the program, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), which based its conclusions on the most recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) statistics. Even considering the 10.3 million seniors whose prescription-drug coverage is subsidized by Medicare through their retiree benefits package, the total is still only 30 million.
Medicare is "close" to reaching its January 2005 prediction that 39 million seniors will receive benefits from the program only if one also counts the 5.8 million seniors who, according to HHS estimates, have prescription-drug coverage equivalent to Medicare but receive no money from Medicare -- hardly seniors "enrolled in the program," as Gregory described them.
Gregory's claim went further even than a tally given by President Bush at a May 9 Medicare event in Sun City Center, Florida. At the event, Bush said that 31 million seniors had "signed up" for the coverage, apparently combining the 19.7 million who are enrolled in Part D (of which only 8 million "signed up" -- the others either were automatically enrolled or receive coverage through a Medicare HMO or PPO) and the 10.3 million whose external prescription-drug coverage is being subsidized. Bush went on to say that "6 million more [people] have an alternative source of coverage" -- presumably referring to the estimated number of seniors who have prescription-drug coverage outside the Medicare program -- and concluded that "37 million of the little more than 42 million people [who are eligible] ... have got coverage, and we're working hard to sign up the remaining eligible seniors."
From the May 9 edition of NBC's Nightly News:
BRIAN WILLIAMS (anchor): President Bush was in Florida today where he was talking up the Medicare prescription-drug program. More than 6 million seniors in this country have just six days to sign up before the enrollment deadline May 15th. With us tonight for more on this, NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory. And, David, what's the political angle here?
GREGORY: Well, Brian, the White House hopes this is a political winner for Republicans who are running for re-election this fall. The key to this is enrollment. Medicare is close to reaching its goal of 39 million seniors around the country enrolled in the program by the deadline, but as you mentioned, there are a lot of seniors left behind, including the poorest among them. So there are Democrats who are now calling for an extension of that deadline to deal with that problem, as well as some of the other complaints -- that there are simply too many choices and a lot of confusion. Democrats, too, hammering Medicare to actually negotiate with the drug companies lower prices for prescription drugs. So this is going to be a political football for both parties this fall, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Thanks, David. David Gregory at the White House tonight.