MN-06 : Strib Lets Bachmann Cherry Pick

QUERY : Does a newspaper have the responsibility to provide reasonable Fact Checking when publishing a politician’s submittal on its Editorial page ?

Recently, a number of newspapers moved cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s Doonsbury series on proposed legislating mandates requiring intrusive vaginal examination from the Comics section to the Editorial section … well, after reading Michelle Bachmann’s (R-MN-06) OpEd in the Star-Tribune, the reverse should be done.

Yes, it’s an Opinion piece … but if the Opinion is based on claims that have previously been rejected, the newspaper’s journalistic integrity must be questioned.

With the headline “Better care won’t be found in Obama’s attempted tyranny”, Ms. Bachmann “cherry picks” data to voice her opinion … consider these comments :

My opposition to Obamacare goes far beyond the constitutional questions the court heard. I agree with President Obama that we want health care costs to decrease, not increase. But Obamacare will do the opposite. The bill’s own architect, Jonathan Gruber, recently backtracked on the claim that premiums would fall and admitted that they will rise sharply as a result of the reforms in Obamacare.

Furthermore, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says Obamacare could cost 800,000 jobs and up to 20 million Americans their health insurance.

Obamacare is already having devastating effects on the economy, particularly in the area of job creation. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Small Business Outlook Survey conducted in July 2011 noted that 33 percent of business owners identified the health care law as either the greatest or second-greatest obstacle to new hiring that employers faced. And by January 2012 another U.S. Chamber survey saw that number rise to 74 percent.

Regarding health care economist Jonathan Gruber and his work with the Gorman Actuarial, a Massachusetts health care consulting firm, there is no reference to Ms. Bachmann’s source, however Mr. Gruber’s work has been “cherry picked” before … specifically by Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker highlighting that there will be some people that will pay more while ignoring that some will pay less and the overall participation will improve.

State officials put the spotlight on projections showing rates are going up for some people in the individual and small group markets, but they did not talk much about the reason why. Gruber says it is because reforms will finally correct a longstanding health care inequity—the common insurance industry practice of cherry picking, or keeping rates low for the young and healthy by charging a lot or even denying coverage outright to the old and the sick with pre-existing conditions .

Missing also were all the projections showing that the number of people who will benefit from the reforms is far greater than those who won’t, Gruber says, something that becomes clear when you add up the tens of thousands of people who will pay less for coverage, the tens of thousands of people who will have better coverage and more coverage than they used to, and the 340,000 uninsured people who will finally be able to afford it.

Gruber’s comments were part of the basis for the FALSE classification by PolitiFact-Wisconsin’s ruling denouncing the Republican claims.

Further, Ms. Bachmann does not acknowledge another WHY cited by Mr. Gruber :

It is important to recognize some limitations in our modeling of prices. In particular, given publicly available data we cannot incorporate the effects of the ban on pre-existing conditions exclusions. This ban will cause a rise in premiums as insurers are forced to cover conditions that they had previously excluded.

Thus, another key factor in Mr. Gruber’s change in cost is a requirement cited by most Republicans that insurers take on all applicants irrespective of pre-existing conditions …. Wouldn’t those costs have also occurred if John Kline (R-MN-02) had hit the Reset Button as his plan included banning discrimation based on pre-existing conditions … and remember that already 298,000 Minnesota children with preexisting conditions are protected under the Affordable Care Act and adults will soon be restricted from being denied insurance coverage.

Second, Ms. Bachmann cites 800,000 job loses yet on July 27, 2011, PolitiFact rated this claim Mostly False writing :

Bachmann said the health care law “will kill 800,000 jobs.” We find that’s an exaggeration of what CBO said. There could be the equivalent of 800,000 fewer workers thanks to the federal health care law, according to the CBO, but not because employers wouldn’t hire them. It’s primarily because workers wouldn’t have to work because the new law expands health care coverage. That means people working most for health insurance would either reduce their hours or leave the job market altogether. There could also be more economic productivity because of the health care law. Bachmann’s statement leaves out so many qualifiers that it becomes misleading.

The CBO report also noted that the health care law could actually help economic productivity.
To the extent that changes in the health insurance system lead to improved health status among workers, the nation’s economic productivity could be enhanced,” the CBO said in its report. “It is not clear, however, whether such changes would have a substantial impact on overall economic productivity or output. Moreover, many of the effects of the legislation may not be felt for several years because it will take time for workers and employers to recognize and to adapt to the new incentives.”

Regarding the claim that CBO estimated that “as many as 20 million Americans could lose their employer-based insurance thanks to Obamacare”, once again PolitiFact has a problem with the assertion :

this is the most extreme outcome of five possible outcomes presented, and it’s not the primary estimate, which is about 5 million.

The four alternative scenarios produced a wide range of outcomes. One actually resulted in a net gain of 3 million people with employer-sponsored insurance. The other scenarios resulted in a decline of 10 million, a decline of 12 million, and — here it is — a decline of 20 million.

It’s important to note that not everyone who “loses” their employer coverage will do so involuntarily. According to CBO’s “baseline” estimates, 3 million people will spurn their employer’s offer of insurance and turn instead to another source, such as the health insurance “exchanges” created under the Obama health care law — virtual marketplaces for each state where applicants will be able to compare and purchase plans that offer at least a minimum bundle of benefits. In many cases, they will do this because they consider the employer’s offering to be unaffordable or lacking too many features they need. So those people aren’t being forced off the employers’ plans, they are choosing to switch.

Regardless, Ms. Bachmann ignores considering that 9 million people who wouldn’t have had an employer plan before the Obama law.

Lastly, Ms. Bachmann cites the Chamber’s Small Business Outlook Survey. The quarterly survey, released in January, revealed that of the 1,332 small business owners surveyed, two-thirds said they had no plans to hire in 2012. Ms. Bachmann seems to assert that it is the new healthcare program but reading the report that is just one factor :

Why aren’t they hiring? As one would expect, 52% say economic uncertainty is among the top reasons they are not hiring. Additionally roughly one-third cites lack of sales as part of their hesitation.
30% say they are not hiring because of the requirements in the health care bill.

That poll is supported by similiar Wells-Fargo Gallop poll whose respondents cited a number of larger concerns than healthcare :

Why are you Not looking for new employees?
Among small-business owners who say they are not currently looking for new employees
76% – Don’t need any additional employees at this time
71% – Worried revenues or sales won’t justify adding employees
66% – Worried about the current status of the U.S. economy
53% – Worried about cash flow or ability to make payroll.

Preaching to the choir, the response from small businesses should not be a surprise … they are focused on “today” … yet, if the healthcare reform had removed the employer involvement (for example, a national sales tax was used to fund healthcare services), how many businesses would still say they would not be hiring … businesses hire based on antcipated demand.

Ms. Bachmann also fails to acknowledge that in 2011, 360,000 small business employers used the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit to help them afford health insurance for two million workers. The tax credit covers up to 35% of the cost of the coverage and will increase to 50% in 2014.

While Ms. Bachmann has vowed to continue her efforts to repeal healthcare legislation, it should be noted that in August, a voter at a town hall meeting expressed to President Obama that he was concerned about what might happen to the law if the mandate was struck down. President Obama repeated his argument that everyone should be responsible by buying their own insurance and that he believed it to be constitutional.

If the Supreme Court follows existing precedent, existing law, it should be upheld without a problem,” Obama said. “If the Supreme Court does not follow existing law and precedent, then we’ll have to manage that when it happens.”
In November, voters will have a chance to decide if Ms. Bachmann should continue to be part of the “management process” … and her “cherry-picking” of data should be a concern.

In the meantime, the Star-Tribune should be ashamed of its disregard for Fact Checking … but after all this is not a new complaint (see Minn Post plea) … otherwise, readers will soon be reminded of Ms. Bachmann concern about the $700 billion “blank check” that she opposed even though a new report released this week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) trimmed how much it expected the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) would eventually cost taxpayers. It now expects that when all is said and done, the program will cost $32 billion.

If not, then the Star-Tribune should print her Opinion pieces with the comic strips, ’cause it sure ain’t fact-based.

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