Friday, September 14, 2012

CNN's fact-checking of 'Medicare's impending bankruptcy' shows the program is not likely to go under soon, or ever

That giant whooshing sound you just heard may have been the sound of millions of baby boomers letting out of sigh of relief. That's because did some much needed fact checking on the often-cited and often-fretted about claim of Medicare’s “impending” bankruptcy. What they found is was startling -- and in a good way, for a change.

Trudy Lieberman, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, notes that the Democrats used the B word at their convention, claiming that if Republicans repealed the Affordable Care Act and thus its efforts to prolong the Medicare Hospital Trust Fund, "Medicare could go broke in 2016.” Republicans, when asked to respond to the charge, promptly B-worded back, saying “Medicare will go bankrupt in 2024." Lieberman reports that CNN then "did some old-fashioned reporting, read some financial reports, and found sources that could really give the financial skinny on Medicare. And it didn’t go for that 'mostly true' or 'partly misleading' stuff that some other fact checking pieces resort to, which can confuse readers more than it enlightens them.

"First, CNN reported, as CJR has urged news outlets to do, that only one part of Medicare is in potential trouble—the Hospital Trust Fund, which is financed by payroll taxes. The other parts of Medicare, including Part B, which finances doctor visits, lab tests, and outpatient services, 'are adequately financed for now,' Medicare trustees have said. Jonathan Oberlander, a health policy expert at the University of North Carolina, told CNN that repealing the health reform law “would in fact worsen Medicare’s financial condition,” but even so, he added, “Medicare is not going bankrupt. Medicare would still have most of the necessary funds to pay those expenses and other parts of the program would be unaffected. Medicare won’t go bankrupt in the literal sense in 2016 or 2024 or 2064 -- or ever.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted this year, "In practice, Congress has never allowed a Medicare trust fund to exhaust its assets." (Read more)

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