7 Whoppers Inside <em>Politico’s</em> Hit Piece On HHS Nominee Tom Price

7 Whoppers Inside Politico’s Hit Piece On HHS Nominee Tom Price

Politico appears to publish Democrat talking points as ‘facts,’ if a recent hit on Tom Price, Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, is any indication.
Christopher Jacobs
By

On Tuesday evening, Politico released an “article” discussing Department of Health and Human Services nominee “Tom Price’s Radically Conservative Vision for American Health Care.” The piece’s first sentence claimed that “gutting Obamacare might be the least controversial part of Tom Price’s health care agenda”—a loaded introduction if ever there were one.

The article goes on to quote seven separate liberal analysts, including the President of Planned Parenthood, while not including a single substantive Republican quote until the very last paragraph of a 27-paragraph piece. Given this opinion piece masqueraded as “journalism,” it’s worth pointing out several important facts, falsehoods, and omissions in the Politico story.

CLAIM 1: Republicans “may look beyond repealing and replacing Obamacare to try to scale back Medicare and Medicaid, popular entitlements that cover roughly 130 million people, many of whom are sick, poor, and vulnerable.”

FACT: It’s ironic that the Politico reporters suddenly care about the “sick, poor, and vulnerable.” I’ve been writing about how Obamacare encourages discrimination against the vulnerable literally for years, including a few short weeks ago. If any Politico reporters have written on how Obamacare encourages states to expand Medicaid to able-bodied adults rather than to cover individuals with disabilities, I have yet to read those articles.

This week came a report that no fewer than 752 individuals with disabilities have died—yes, died—while on waiting lists to receive Medicaid services since that state expanded coverage under Obamacare to able-bodied adults. If the Politico reporters—much less the liberal advocates the reporters interviewed for the article—care so much about the “sick, poor, and vulnerable,” when will they cover this Obamacare-induced tragedy?

CLAIM 2: “Price…has proposed policies that are more conservative than those of many House Republican colleagues.”

FACT: Price’s fiscal year 2016 budget, which included provisions related to Obamacare repeal, premium support for Medicare, and block grants for Medicaid, passed the House with 228 votes. How can Politico claim Price’s policies “are more conservative than those of many House Republican colleagues,” when more than 93 percent of them publicly endorsed his vision?

CLAIM 3: “The vast majority of the 20 million people now covered under Obamacare would have far less robust coverage—if they got anything at all.”

FACT: This claim presupposes 1) that all individuals covered under Obamacare want to buy health coverage, and 2) that they want to buy the type of health coverage Obamacare forces them to purchase. It ignores the fact that premiums increased by thousands of dollars in 2014 because individuals were forced to buy richer coverage.

It also ignores the fact that nearly 8 million individuals have paid the tax penalty associated with not buying Obamacare-compliant health coverage—because they cannot afford it, do not want it, or both—and another 12.4 million have requested exemptions from the Obamacare mandate. Depending on the degree of overlap between individuals who paid the mandate tax penalty and individuals who claimed exemptions, the number of Obamacare refuseniks could actually exceed the number of individuals newly covered under the law.

Instead, this claim comes at the question of insurance coverage from President Obama’s liberal, paternalistic perspective. When millions of people started receiving Obamacare-related cancellation notices in the mail, the president gave a speech stating how all those plans were “substandard:” “A lot of people thought they were buying coverage, and it turned out not to be so good.” In other words, “If you liked your plan, you’re an idiot.”

CLAIM 4: “Price also supports privatizing Medicare…”

FACT: The premium support plan included in the House Republican budget includes 1) a federal contribution that increases every year to fund 2) a federally regulated plan with 3) federally mandated benefits and 4) the option to continue in government-run Medicare if beneficiaries so choose. Which of these four points would the Politico reporters deem “privatizing?”

CLAIM 5: “…an approach that Democrats lambaste as a voucher system…”

FACT: That claim is both ironic and hypocritical coming from Democrats, as a version of premium support endorsed by House Speaker Ryan and Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden in 2011 would have utilized the exact same bidding mechanism as Obamacare itself. Do Democrats “lambaste” Obamacare’s exchanges as a “voucher system?” Interestingly enough, the Politico reporters neither note this irony, nor apparently bothered to ask the question.

CLAIM 6: “…that would gut a 50-year-old social contract and shift a growing share of health care costs onto seniors.”

FACT: The form of premium support Price endorsed in this year’s House Republican budget would, according to a September 2013 analysis from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), save both the federal government and seniors money. Don’t take my word for it—here’s a quote from the CBO paper (emphasis added):

CBO’s analysis implies that beneficiaries’ total payments would be about 6 percent lower, on average, under the average-bid option than under current law. That reduction results from the combination of the lower average premiums paid above and a reduction in average out-of-pocket costs, which would result primarily from higher enrollment in lower-bidding private plans.

Where exactly among the highlighted phrases did the Politico reporters get the idea that premium support will “shift a growing share of health care costs onto seniors?”

CLAIM 7: “Price also wants to limit federal Medicaid spending to give states a lump sum, or block grant, and more control over how they could use it—a dream of conservative Republicans for years, and a nightmare for advocates for the poor who fear that many would lose coverage.”

FACT: A block grant would increase federal spending on Medicaid annually, just by slightly less than prior estimates. Only in Washington could granting a program a 3 percent increase rather than a 5 percent increase classify as a “cut.”

Having provided actual facts to rebut the piece’s nonsensical claims, I’ll offer some free advice: If the folks on Politico’s payroll want to publish liberal talking points unchallenged, they should quit their jobs, go out on their own, and do what I do for a living. I’m all for a free press, and freedom of speech, but passing opinion—and one-sided opinion at that—as “journalism” does a disservice to the name.

Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm based in Washington, and a senior health policy analyst for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He's on Twitter @chrisjacobshc.

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