Fox Hypes Coburn's Misleading Report On Government Health Care Programs


Fox News is helping promote Sen. Tom Coburn's misleading report on health care spending, which attacked the Affordable Care Act by cherry-picking data on the rise of spending in health care systems.

The Oklahoma Republican released a report this week titled "The History of Federal Health Care Spending," which attempted to rebut projections that the ACA will reduce the deficit and lower health care costs by presenting data on the cost growth of other federal programs like Medicaid and Medicare. The report argued that that "the government's spending on health care programs usually outpaces economic growth" and that "compared with initial government estimates and outlays, most programs have experienced exponential growth."

On Fox News' America's Newsroom, co-host Bill Hemmer said the report revealed "stunning numbers," while Fox contributor Charles Gasparino endorsed the report's suggestion that the growth in government health care programs contradicted positive projections of the ACA's impact, claiming "when government is this much enmeshed in a program like this, it always leads to disaster":

But Fox's hype ignores the crucial flaw in Coburn's report -- it omits crucial context about why the programs' costs have increased and how they perform at controlling costs when compared to private health insurance.

While it's true that spending on programs such as Medicaid and Medicare have increased over the last 50 years, the cause of those rising costs are not a result of government involvement, but due to the fact that overall spending on health care has increased exponentially. A 2010 report in Health Affairs which tracked Medicare spending over roughly 20 years found that much of the growth "is attributable to rising spending on chronic conditions -- specifically diabetes and hypertension, both of which rose considerably in treated prevalence over the past two decades."

Notably, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that "Since Medicare's inception, however, growth in annual spending per beneficiary has been approximately one percentage point lower than private health insurance spending":

KFF chart

Coburn and Fox also ignored the fact that spending in programs like Medicare and Medicaid is actually lower than in private health insurance. A 2013 report by the Brookings Institute determined that from 2001-2012, Medicaid spending per enrollee was significantly lower than other forms of insurance:

Brookings chart

Similarly, a 2012 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed a report by the Urban Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation and concluded that "Medicaid costs per beneficiary grew much more slowly over the past decade than costs for employer-sponsored insurance or across the health care system as a whole":

Between 2000 and 2009, Medicaid costs per beneficiary rose by an average of 4.6 percent a year, the study found, while premiums for employer-sponsored insurance rose by an average of 7.7 percent (see graph).  National health expenditures per capita, which include spending on private insurance as well as on public programs like Medicaid and Medicare, rose by an average of 5.9 percent.

The Urban Institute researchers attribute Medicaid's better performance to "an aggressive set of cost containment policies" such as expanding the use of managed care, instituting efficiencies in rates for health care providers, limiting pharmaceutical costs, and providing long-term services and support to people in the community rather than in more costly nursing homes.

Posted In
Health Care, Health Care Reform, Medicaid, Medicare
Fox News Channel
Bill Hemmer, Charles Gasparino
America's Newsroom
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