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Times Health-Care "Refresher" Just Same Old Liberal Talking Points

David Herszenhorn accepts dubious liberal premises about how the cost of U.S. health care is "rising way too fast" and talks in soothing terms of "reductions to slow Medicare spending" (don't call them cuts).

A long "Prescriptions" blog post by reporter David Herszenhorn on Wednesday, "Still Confused? A Refresher on the Basics of the Health Debate," purported to offer a "refresher" course on what's at stake in the health care reform debate, but was based on several liberal premises.


Let's start with two over-arching issues: About 46 million people in the United States do not have health insurance. And health care costs - doctor visits, medicine, hospital care, lab tests, etc. - are rising way too fast. The proposals by President Obama and Congress try to tackle both problems.


But that "46 million" figure is misleading, as Julie Seymour argued in a February 2007 article for the Business and Media Institute when rebutting a similar inflated figure being thrown around by left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore:


But there are millions of people who should be excluded from that tally, including: those who aren't American citizens, people who can afford their own insurance, and people who already qualify for government coverage but haven't signed up. Government statistics also show 45 percent of those without insurance will have insurance again within four months after job transitions.


And Herszenhorn's statement that health care costs "are rising way too fast" sounds more like his opinion. It's also overly reductionist - as health care technology improves, costs go up, at least initially, for the new treatments. Yet people are obviously willing to pay for those improvements. Who is to say those costs are "rising way too fast"?


And while he made a good point, Herszenhorn got a little quote-happy in this paragraph:


And starting in 2013, nearly everybody would be required to obtain health coverage, or pay a penalty for not doing so. The logic is the same as in requiring auto insurance: anyone without coverage poses a risk of high costs for everyone else. But the proposed "mandate" is also a political flashpoint: Americans tend not to like being told what to do by their government, and Republicans are attacking the penalty as a "tax."


The Times tends to put popular Republican phrases like "death tax" inside quotes, as if warning readers that the phrase is dubious.


And as it has in the past, the Times shied away from talk of Medicare "cuts" when they are proposed by Obama, preferring the less-frightening phrase, "reduce the growth of Medicare spending." (In contrast, when Newt Gingrich tried to reduce the growth of Medicare, the Times hammered him for proposing "big cuts.")


Also notice how benign Herszenhorn made the "reduction in growth" of Medicare sound:


To help offset the cost of a health care overhaul, Mr. Obama and Congress want to reduce the growth of Medicare spending - not by cutting services but by pressuring providers like doctors and hospitals to offer the high-quality, cost-effective care found in parts of the country that stretch their Medicare dollars the farthest.


What's a bigger risk: That the proposed reductions to slow Medicare spending are more likely to lead to cuts in services than increased efficiency? Or that political stalemate will force more drastic changes to Medicare when the trust fund is finally exhausted, as projected in 2019?