Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just The Facts, Please

Health care today is a massive issue. A quick glance at any news-oriented media (including this blog) will show the topic being addressed from every angle as a variety of facts, pseudo facts, and pure polemic fight for that all important mindshare -- yours.

The catchphrases and keywords of the discussion are bandied about everywhere: Hillary Care, socialized medicine, single payer plan, SCHIP, government insurance and many others. How is the average American to make any clear sense of this media barrage?

Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Annenberg Political Fact Check from the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) of the University of Pennsylvania, we have a few options available today. A pioneer in presenting non-partisan fact checking online, the APPC accepts no funding from individuals, political campaigns, businesses, unions or lobbying organizations. It also boasts a large team of researchers and journalists to assist in cutting through the rhetoric.

PolitFact, a project from the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, and its "Truth-O-Meter," is another site which checks the veracity of campaign videos and candidates. Particularly useful when the health care issue comes up. It is always interesting to see the myriad ways in which the same numbers can be presented by different sides.

Then there is the new kid on the block: The Washington Post. In early September the Post launched its new Fact Checker feature, helmed by distinguished staff writer Michael Dobbs and research wizard Alice Crites, the backbone of the Post's investigative department for most of the last ten years. During that decade Crites has worked on three Pulitzer-winning series. Personally I like the fact they use "Pinocchios" to rate the magnitude of factual distortion.

Let's take a look at the Fact Checker this morning, where accusations of socialized medicine levied at Senator Hillary Clinton are dissected:

According to MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber, who advised Romney on his health care reform law and has also advised Clinton, the Massachusetts law has a lot in common with the Clinton plan. Both plans mandate universal health care coverage and subsidize health care for people on low incomes. The main difference is that Clinton's proposal permits people to switch to a Medicare-type plan and increases taxes at higher income levels.

Contrary to claims by Romney and other Republicans, the Clinton plan does not force Americans to accept "government insurance." It offers people a choice. If they are happy with their present health plan, they can keep it. Otherwise, they can switch to the plans offered to members of Congress, or a government-run plan similar to Medicare.

The column goes into great detail providing quotes and sources, as well as detailing the lack thereof. It concludes with "The Pinocchio Test."

The claim that "Hillary care" is tantamount to "socialized medicine" does not stand up to serious examination. The Clinton health care plan has more in common with the Massachusetts plan signed into law by Governor Mitt Romney than the British National Health system. We award three Pinocchios to Romney.

I wonder if anyone will win the coveted "Geppetto Checkmark," the sign denoting a complete lack of factual distortion?

SOURCE: "'Hillary Care' and 'Socialized Medicine'" 10/24/07
photo courtesy of Marc Nozell, used under its Creative Commons license

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