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NPR Slants Towards Advocates of Obama's Medicare Plan; Omits Conservatives

Julie Rovner, NPR's resident ObamaCare flack, failed to include any conservatives experts for her report on Medicare on Tuesday's All Things Considered. Rovner played two soundbites each from Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation and from MIT's Jonathan Gruber, whom the Washington Post named the Democratic Party's "most influential health-care expert." She didn't mention either individual's liberal affiliations.

The closest that the correspondent got to mentioning their left-of-center politics is when she pointed out how Gruber "likes the way the Affordable Care Act takes on Medicare with a variety of approaches."

Rovner, who has a record of filing one-sided reports on the health care issue, first outlined both presidential candidate's Medicare plans: "President Obama's plan fundamentally relies on slowing Medicare spending gradually....Romney, however, would dramatically remake the program. He'd change it from one that's largely run by the federal government to one that's largely run by private insurers."

The journalist added that "the bottom line is both candidates are walking a political tightrope here. On the one hand, says Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, it's Medicare, not the health law, that could help turn the election, according to the foundation's most recent poll." As in past reports, she did not mention that NPR has a joint partnership with the liberal organization, along with Harvard University's School of Public Health.

Rovner also cited another figure from the group's poll that supports the liberal position: "Altman says the same poll last month, that found seniors are making Medicare a voting issue, also found something else - that they pretty much like Medicare the way it is now." She continued by claiming that "a prudent politician would say, okay, let's just not touch Medicare. After all, they don't call it one of the third rails of politics for nothing. But that's no longer an option - not with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for the next two decades, says Jonathan Gruber. He's a health economist at MIT."

Gruber boosted ObamaCare in his second soundbite: "It's a balanced approach. I mean, it's basically saying, look, there's lots of different things we need to do for Medicare to make it work better. We don't really know which one is the ultimate long-run solution, but we need to move forward." The NPR correspondent countered this with another clip from Romney, but her overall sound bite count slanted towards the left, with six from liberals, and three from the conservatives/Republicans, all from the former Massachusetts governor.

The full transcript of Julie Rovner's report from Tuesday's All Things Considered:

ROBERT SIEGEL: Now, to one of this election's most potent political issues - Medicare. The health insurance program serves about 50 million senior and disabled Americans. And, with 78 million baby boomers poised to join, the future of Medicare has never been more in peril.

As part of our series 'Solve This', NPR's Julie Rovner looks at the very different ways President Obama and Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, say they plan to deal with the problem.

JULIE ROVNER: The first presidential debate earlier this month had an entire segment devoted to the subject of health care. But it wasn't the 2010 health law that the candidates brought up first. It was Medicare. Specifically, each candidate went after what they saw as the weaknesses of the other candidate's plan. Here's President Obama on what Mitt Romney is proposing.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The idea, which was originally presented by Congressman [Paul] Ryan, your running mate, is that we would give a voucher to seniors, and they could go out in the private marketplace and buy their own health insurance. The problem is, that because the voucher wouldn't necessarily keep up with health care inflation, it was estimated that this would cost the average senior about $6,000 a year.

ROVNER: And here's Governor Romney on what President Obama's health law would do to Medicare.

MITT ROMNEY, (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: But on Medicare, for current retirees, he's cutting $716 billion from the program. Now, he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers - actually, just going to them and saying we're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board - everybody's going to get a lower rate.

ROVNER: Now, independent fact checkers took issue with exactly how the candidates described each other's plans, but the outlines are basically accurate. President Obama's plan fundamentally relies on slowing Medicare spending gradually - or, as he put it-

OBAMA: The way for us to deal with Medicare, in particular, is to lower health care costs.

ROVNER: Romney, however, would dramatically remake the program. He'd change it from one that's largely run by the federal government to one that's largely run by private insurers.

ROMNEY: I know my own view is, I'd rather have a private plan. I'd just as soon not have the government telling me what kind of health care I get. I'd rather be able to have an insurance company. If I don't like them, I can get rid of them and find a different insurance company.

ROVNER: But the bottom line is both candidates are walking a political tightrope here. On the one hand, says Drew Altman of the Kaiser Family Foundation, it's Medicare, not the health law, that could help turn the election, according to the foundation's most recent poll.

DREW ALTMAN, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: For seniors, Medicare is only slightly behind the economy as their top election issue.

ROVNER: And seniors are important - not only because they vote more reliably than other voters, but also because they're a key voting bloc in swing states, like Florida and Ohio. But Altman says the same poll last month, that found seniors are making Medicare a voting issue, also found something else - that they pretty much like Medicare the way it is now.

ALTMAN: The verdict is very clear, especially with seniors. They're anxious about changing the traditional program.

ROVNER: Now, a prudent politician would say, okay, let's just not touch Medicare. After all, they don't call it one of the third rails of politics for nothing. But that's no longer an option - not with 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for the next two decades, says Jonathan Gruber. He's a health economist at MIT.

JONATHAN GRUBER, MIT: We as a society are not willing to put the resources in to let Medicare go along as it's going along. To keep Medicare solvent over the long run would require taking the current Medicare payroll tax, which is about 2.9 percent, and taking it up to 12 percent or more of payroll. And we're just not willing to do that.

ROVNER: That means Medicare spending will have to be reined in somehow. Gruber says he likes the way the Affordable Care Act takes on Medicare with a variety of approaches. They include not only reducing some payments to health care providers, but also experimenting with ways to provide financial incentives for higher-quality care.

GRUBER: It's a balanced approach. I mean, it's basically saying, look, there's lots of different things we need to do for Medicare to make it work better. We don't really know which one is the ultimate long-run solution, but we need to move forward.

ROVNER: Governor Romney, meanwhile, says he prefers the power of the marketplace.

ROMNEY: This is an idea that's been around a long time, which is saying, hey, let's see if we can't get competition into the Medicare world, so that people can get the choice of different plans at lower cost, better quality. I believe in competition.

ROVNER: But clearly, when it comes to Medicare, both candidates also share the belief in using it as a weapon to wield against their opponent in an effort to scare seniors. That's something that's been true for several elections now, and it's shown no sign of changing this year either. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.