Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Fisking the Gray Lady

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the New York Times' Reed Abelson. For whatever reason, that interview was never published, but she struck me as a very nice lady, hindered only by some major blinders.

I was reminded of this today, when FoIB Holly R sent along the link to Ms Abelson's latest opus:

"With a court decision on Monday declaring the health care law unconstitutional and Republicans intent on repealing at least parts of it, thousands of Americans with major illnesses are facing the renewed prospect of losing their health insurance coverage."

Sounds pretty urgent, doesn't it?

But when one reads past that attention-grabbing intro, there's a lot less here than meets the eye. Her primary focus is on the lifetime caps. Now, I'm on record as having no real problem with lifting the lifetime maximum on policies: for one thing, the number of people who'd be affected is vanishingly small (as we’ll see in a moment); for another, the actual cost of this "benefit" is negligible. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that the bill itself is so rotten that it is unsalvageable. If the lifetime cap needs to go, then it needs to go, and this can be addressed when it's repealed and (perhaps) replaced.

In support of her position, Ms Abelson dredges up an old canard:

"The legislation put an end to lifetime limits on coverage for the first time, erasing the financial burdens, including personal bankruptcy, that had affected many ailing Americans."


"Credit-card debt, which went from $4,800 to $7,300 per household. Another factor is that it's often beneficial, given the alternatives, to declare bankruptcy. At most, 29% of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills, and even that's likely an overstatement."

She then abruptly changes course, declaring that "even Republicans concede that a full repeal is unlikely." I challenge her to name one current Republican congressperson who's stated this. In fact, every single Republican Senator has signed onto S. 192 (The ObamaRepeal© Bill).

Project much, Reed?

Earlier, I opined that the number of people affected by the lifetime caps was "vanishingly small." Any idea just how small? Try "an estimated 20,000 insured Americans reached the lifetime limits of their coverage each year." Now, in the blog world, we have something called "fact-checking," which pretty much requires that one back up statements like this with a citation or link. One supposes that the NYT imprimatur is proof enough, because documentation certainly isn't forthcoming.

Finally, it's all about the narrative: Ms Abelson uses the sad story of cancer patient Hillary St. Pierre, whose coverage was slated to run out under her plan's lifetime max. Buried many, many paragraphs in, we learn that, even if her plan bailed, she "also now qualifies for Medicare." Way to bury the lede, Reed.

As I mentioned, removing the lifetime caps may well be a good, workable idea. But to paraphrase Judge Vinson, "it's not the Removal of Lifetime Caps and Pay for Preventive Care bill."

I doubt we'll see that story in the Gray Lady.
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