Context matters -- We examine the claim in the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make.Hogwash.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter
|(clipped from PolitiFact.com)|
The fact checkers:
Angie Drobnic Holan: writer, researcher
Louis Jacobson: researcher
Katie Sanders: researcher
Aaron Sharockman: editor
This story by PolitiFact Florida manifests that special type of journalistic incompetence that could easily double as deliberate campaign activity on behalf of the Democratic Party's senatorial candidate, Bill Nelson.
PolitiFact does provide the context of the ad, which gives the lie, directly or indirectly, to pretty much the entire PolitiFact analysis:
U.S. Chamber: "Obamacare will be a nightmare for Florida seniors. Did Bill Nelson consider the consequences when he cast a deciding vote for Obamacare?"
Nelson: "This legislation is gonna let folks that are happy with their insurance keep it …"
U.S. Chamber: "Wrong. 20 million people could lose their current coverage."
Nelson: "... including our senior citizens who are on Medicare."
U.S. Chamber: "But Senator, seniors will see $500 billion in Medicare cuts to fund Obamacare. Call Bill Nelson. Tell him to support the repeal of Obamacare."
PolitiFact focuses on a would-be broader context where the ad supposedly implies that 20 million Medicare beneficiaries will* lose their current insurance:
Here, we’re checking whether "20 million people could lose their current coverage," and whether those people are older Americans on Medicare as the ad strongly suggests.Don't hold your breath waiting for PolitiFact to substantiate its claim that the ad "strongly suggests" that 20 million Medicare beneficiaries will lose their current coverage. It never happens. Instead, we get a series of statements that essentially repeat the charge without any supporting evidence: "The ad makes it sound like 20 million seniors will be losing coverage," "The ad blurs these distinctions in a way that’s highly misleading," "Yet it seems like that’s the reasonable interpretation of the ad" and "The ad from the U.S. Chamber makes it sound like 20 million older Americans will lose coverage under the health care law."
Apparently since the ad opens with the claim that "Obamacare will be a nightmare for Florida seniors," PolitiFact assumes that some portion of the ad must support that statement. But that simply isn't the case. The ad follows up by showing Nelson making false statements about the health plan he supported and the ad questions whether Nelson considered the consequences of his vote. That's fair game in politics.
Is the jump from the claim that ObamaCare is disastrous for Florida seniors to Nelson's ill-stated advocacy a proper justification for a "Pants on Fire" rating? PolitiFact wants us to think so, and uses techniques that make the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad look completely aboveboard by comparison.
We read (CBO) the report, which analyzes the health care law of 2010, also known as the Affordable Care Act. We quickly realized the ad was mixing apples and oranges.On the contrary, rather than mixing apples and oranges the ad uses the higher boundary of an estimate of those who will lose existing employer-provided coverage to represent the number of citizens overall who will lose their existing coverage. Logically, the higher boundary on the loss of existing coverage for all Americans is higher than that for just those in the employer-provided market. The claim that the ad mixes apples and oranges stands if PolitiFact demonstrates that the ad is saying that 20 million Medicare beneficiaries will lose their existing coverage. PolitiFact never undertakes that demonstration.
Even if the ad had provided proper context of employer-provided insurance, it’s still not exactly the case that 20 million people will lose coverage under the health insurance law.
Second, some portion of that (20 million) number are people voluntarily switching to other, better coverage -- not being forced out of coverage against their will.Ah, the old "conjecture as evidence" ploy. "Are" suggests a fact in evidence. But the consequences of the law foretold in the CBO report are not yet in evidence. As chronicled in an earlier "Grading PolitiFact" entry, PolitiFact invented its evidence on this point. Is it possible that a person will voluntarily leave employer-provided coverage for coverage under an exchange? Sure, barely. But subsidized exchange coverage under the health care reform act is not available to those forsaking employer-offered coverage. Those doing so pay for their insurance out of their own pockets, and in addressing that point the CBO notes that consumers in the insurance market strongly tend to choose the less expensive option. PolitiFact has an excellent record of ignoring that detail from the report.
Shenanigan D (bold emphasis added):
We contacted the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit group that works with Medicare beneficiaries to educate them on the program and help them get access to care. We asked executive director Judith Stein if there was any scenario in which seniors would lose coverage under the new health care law.Note the leading nature of the question posed to Stein. The question uses as its premise the supposition that the ad says seniors will lose insurance coverage, not that seniors will lose their current plan. And for many seniors, the current plan is a Medicare Advantage plan.
"If they’re stating that 20 million people would lose Medicare because of the Affordable Care Act, that is simply not true. In fact, the health care law strengthens Medicare coverage," Stein said.
From the Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster:
The new provisions will generally reduce MA rebates to plans and thereby result in less generous benefit packages. We estimate that in 2017, when the MA provisions will be fully phased in, enrollment in MA plans will be lower by about 50 percent (from its projected level of 14.8 million under the prior law to 7.4 million under the new law).As with the decreased enrollment in employer-provided insurance, the abandonment of existing Medicare Advantage insurance plans will occur primarily because of price rationing.
PolitiFact would leave its readers none the wiser.
Now to evaluate the ad according to an alternative reasonable interpretation.
The ad doesn't support its claim that the health care reform bill will prove disastrous for Florida seniors. Instead, it makes the case that Bill Nelson's advocacy for the reform bill was misplaced. That is the meaning of the ad's question "Did Bill Nelson consider the consequences when he cast a deciding vote for Obamacare?"
To support the idea that Nelson's perception of the consequences was awry, the ad shows him making the debunked claim that those who like their current insurance plan will be able to keep that plan. Nelson expands on that claim by specifically mentioning Medicare. The response in the ad points to a Medicare "cut" that reallocates the funding toward ObamaCare. A portion of that reduction to projected Medicare spending comes from the reduced Medicare Advantage rebates mentioned above by Medicare's chief actuary.
PolitiFact crashes into this problem again and again. Fair interpretation requires charitable interpretation of every statement. It is flatly improper for fact checkers to arbitrarily prefer one "reasonable" interpretation over another. The claim that 20 million may lose existing insurance--the claim PolitiFact chose to check--is flatly true by the CBO report because the total number of Americans who may lose existing coverage cannot be less than the number of Americans who may lose employer-based coverage. PolitiFact's suggestion that the ad implies that the full 20 million come from Medicare carries the appearance of mendacity.
Angie Drobnic Holan: F
Aaron Sharockman: F
I'm not offering grades for those who merely contributed research.
The two listed above are journalists reporting badly.
*Update/Clarification 5/18/2012: I wrote early in the post that PolitiFact says "the ad supposedly implies that 20 million Medicare beneficiaries will lose their current insurance." That statement is accurate in the context of the the entire fact check but is not fully supported by the quotation immediately following. I considered changing it but decided on an explanatory note instead.