‘Revamping’ Medicare? The Word They’re Looking for Is ‘Slashing’

Few pieces better illustrate the uselessness of so much corporate media political journalism than Kathleen Hennessey’s piece in the L.A. Times (4/4/11) on Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction plan.

The piece is headlined “House Republican Budget Plan Would Revamp Medicare,” and the lead explains that the GOP budget proposal outlined by Ryan “includes an overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid and would aim to chop at least $4 trillion from the federal deficit over the next decade.””Revamp,” an “overhaul”–well, that sounds good, doesn’t it? How does Ryan plan to do that, exactly?

Despite reporting that Ryan’s “broad overview” offered “the clearest picture yet” of Republican deficit-reduction plans, the piece is far from clear: Hennessey reports that Ryan is suggesting “changes to entitlement programs”–“dramatic changes”–and is “addressing the rising costs of the program.” Then, in the seventh paragraph, we get this:

Under the proposed rework of the Medicare program, seniors would chose from several federally subsidized health plans. The changes would take effect in 2021 and would not affect people who are 55 or older now, Ryan said.

Oh, OK–so how’s that going to save $4 trillion? The piece doesn’t say–that’s the full description.

Then in the 26th paragraph, we get a quote from a partisan critic of Ryan’s plan, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D.-Md.), who says that the plan cuts “health security for seniors.” He’s not allowed to get any more specific than that, but Ryan gets four paragraphs of rebuttal to Van Hollen’s one paragraph of vague criticism, starting with:

Ryan described the Medicare plan as a version of a “premium support” system he crafted along with former Clinton administration budget director Alice Rivlin. He acknowledged the proposal would shift more of the burden for healthcare costs to seniors, saying the wealthiest seniors would bear the largest portion.

“More for the poor, more for people who are sick, and we don’t give as much to the people who are wealthy,” Ryan said. “This saves Medicare.”

Whoa, whoa, wait a second–“shift more of the burden for healthcare costs to seniors”? Why is this the first we’re hearing about this, in the 27th paragraph of a 31-paragraph article?

Ryan’s plan is not very hard to explain: He wants to replace Medicare with a system where seniors would receive vouchers to buy health insurance. As the cost of health insurance rises every year, the value of the vouchers would rise by not as much. Eventually the difference between the value of the vouchers and the cost of buying health insurance, along with a similar scheme for cutting Medicaid reimbursements, would amount to $4 trillion–which would be the amount that would come out of the pockets of seniors and the poor, plus the amount of healthcare they would do without.

That’s what the L.A. Times means by “revamping.” But if the paper explained that to its readers, they would mostly think Ryan’s idea was a terrible one. And that would be biased–so it’s better to leave the readers not knowing any more than they did before they read the article.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.