NPR’s Failed Medicare Fact Check

On Friday, National Public Radio (NPR) ran self-styled fact check segment analyzing claims made by Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan during last week’s debate.  It’s hardly surprising that, despite $2.4 million in taxpayer money going toward NPR, the fact check was embarrassingly skewed.

In fact, their final tally looked like this: Biden right; Ryan wrong; Ryan out of context; and, Biden simply misspoke.  To help untangle the spin and do a real service to the taxpayer, we’ll take each failed fact check from NPR and give an accurate picture of reality.

1.  Biden claimed the Romney-Ryan plan to reform Medicare would “eliminate the guarantee of Medicare.”  NPR called this “largely true” because Biden was using “shorthand for the way Medicare is structured today.”

As Heritage’s Robert Moffit, Ph.D., a former deputy assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, has explained ad nauseum, “all major versions of premium support guarantee beneficiaries at least the Medicare benefits or the level of benefits they get today with access to new plans with even higher levels of coverage at competitive prices tomorrow.”

We rate NPR’s rating as FALSE for failing to understand the nature of premium support proposals.

2.  Ryan said his Medicare reform plan was bipartisan because it was “put together with a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon.”  NPR did not weigh in on the claim, but to say that Ron Wyden now opposes the plan.

Of course, premium support has a long history of bipartisanship that predates Senator Wyden’s flipping and flopping: the Brookings Institution’s Alice Rivlin co-authored a bipartisan premium support proposal known as Domenici–Rivlin;  Brookings’ Henry Aaron originally coined the term “premium support” in 1995; and, former Senator John Breaux (D–LA) has expressed support.

We rate NPR’s rating as MISLEADING for willfully ignoring premium support’s origins.

3.  Shifting to Obamacare, Ryan claimed “20 million people are projected to lose their health insurance” if the law is fully implemented.  NPR said Ryan was taking numbers “way out of context” because it’s just the number who would “no longer have employer-provided health insurance.”

In attempting to put the numbers into context, NPR missed the larger context, which is President Obama’s promise.  Throughout the legislative debate, the president promised, “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period. No one will take it away, no matter what.”  As Heritage points out, the Obama administration now acknowledges, in their own words, “as a practical matter, a majority of group health plans will lose their grandfather status by 2013.”

We rate NPR’s rating as CONTEXTUALLY LACKING for failing to include President Obama’s 2009 promise.

4.  180 seconds into the 214 second clip, NPR acknowledged “not all the misstatements were made by Ryan.” 

What were these “misstatements?”  Well, Biden thought Sarah Palin coined the phrase “death panel” during their debate in 2008, as opposed to the following summer during the actual health care debate.  And then, he said the Ryan-Romney plan would “knock 19 million people off Medicare” when he “meant to say Medicaid.”

We rate NPR’s rating as UNDERSTATED for passing off blatant falsehoods as simple misstatements.

As Heritage’s Moffit explains, “on Medicare especially, double check the media “fact-checkers.” Like the rest of us, they are fallible creatures, struggling with complex material.”  As a public service – performed without taxpayer money – Heritage Action will continue debunking the myths surrounding conservative Medicare reform.


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