Fact Checkers Need to Take Facts More Seriously

Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom via ZUMA

Glenn Kessler demonstrates the limitations of fact checking today. The question is: Does Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All plan save money or cost money? Answer: it does both. According to a new Mercatus study, it would reduce the total cost of health care by about $2 trillion over the next decade. But since the federal government would be paying for it all, it would raise federal health care spending by $32 trillion over ten years. Given this, Kessler chides liberals for “cherry picking” the $2 trillion savings number when they tout this report.

This is ridiculous. Any national health care plan will raise federal spending considerably. It will also raise taxes considerably to pay for it, so the net cost to the federal budget is roughly zero. In return, patients and corporations no longer have to pay premiums or copays or out-of-pocket costs to insurance companies, so the net cost to individuals is, again, roughly zero. All of this is fundamental to any national health care plan. We can argue on the margins about whether the net costs are truly zero or just close to zero, but that’s about it.

So where’s the cherry picking? The Sanders plan will reduce overall costs $2 trillion. It will raise federal taxes by $32 trillion over ten years, but “to the extent that the cost of M4A is financed by new payroll taxes, premium collections, or other revenue increases, the net effect on the federal budget deficit would be substantially less.”

Indeed. If we assume that taxes will rise to make up for reduced premiums/copays/etc., the effect on the federal budget is a wash. If we assume that all of Sanders’ assumptions are correct—in particular that doctors will be paid at Medicare rates—overall health care spending will go down $2 trillion. On the other hand, if we assume Sanders is wrong and doctors will end up being paid more than Medicare rates, then overall spending will go up about $5 trillion.

Bottom line: The effect of Sanders’ plan on the federal deficit is, currently, unknown. The effect on the total cost of health care could be either -$2 trillion or +$5 trillion depending on whether you accept that M4A will do what it says and pay doctors at Medicare rates. That’s the whole report.

And yet touting the -$2 trillion number is “cherry picking” and rates three pinocchios. Give me a break.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate