Brief Note on the New York Times on Medicare

by Reihan Salam

Earlier this week, Jackie Calmes wrote a scathing report on Mitt Romney’s call for repealing the Medicare savings in PPACA for the New York Times. She makes a brief acknowledgment that the planned savings might have an impact on Medicare beneficiaries:

While Republicans have raised legitimate questions about the long-term feasibility of the reimbursement cuts, analysts say, to restore them in the short term would immediately add hundreds of dollars a year to out-of-pocket Medicare expenses for beneficiaries. That would violate Mr. Romney’s vow that neither current beneficiaries nor Americans within 10 years of eligibility would be affected by his proposal to shift Medicare to a voucherlike system in which recipients are given a lump sum to buy coverage from competing insurers.

And later on, she acknowledges the concerns of Richard Foster, the chief actuary at CMS:

“While the Affordable Care Act makes important changes to the Medicare program and substantially improves its financial outlook, there is a strong likelihood that certain of these changes will not be viable in the long range,” Mr. Foster wrote.

He added, “The best available evidence indicates that most health care providers cannot improve their productivity to this degree — or even approach such a level — as a result of the labor-intensive nature of these services.”

Yet one gets the strong impression that she is making the case for PPACA’s Medicare savings. Indeed, she presents a somewhat misleading story as to why Medicare Advantage plans tend to cost more than Medicare FFS (it’s reflects using a benchmark rather than bidding, as we’ve discussed) and then concludes with a punchy quote from Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a leading Democratic critic of right-of-center Medicare reform efforts. 

Consider, in contrast, Josh Barro’s more measured defense of the Medicare savings in PPACA, “Medicare Cuts Are a Well-Priced Lunch.” Josh is a sharp — indeed, at times a brutal — critic of the GOP and Romney-Ryan, yet he carefully explains why “self-interested seniors” might want the savings rolled back without endorsing that position.

Reading these articles reminded me of Noam Scheiber’s exhaustively reported book The Escape Artists, in which he addressed the close relationship between a number of reporters and senior White House officials. I recommend reading it. In some cases, senior officials do little more than, to paraphrase Scheiber, talk reporters through budget arcana. But of course the people we rely on to talk us through an issue can influence how we understand it, and thus how we report on it. 

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.