Misinformed on Health Costs by Fox, Rush–and WaPo

Newspaper columnists often seem to get to write what they want. So it’s interesting when two of them are writing about the same thing on the same day–and arriving at the opposite conclusion.

In the Washington Post (3/23/12) , conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote this about the Affordable Care Act’s costs, as tallied by the Congressional Budget Office:

Obamacare was carefully constructed to manipulate the standard 10-year cost projections of the CBO. Because benefits would not fully kick in for four years, President Obama could trumpet 10-year gross costs of less than $1 trillion–$938 billion to be exact.

But now that the near-costless years 2010 and 2011 have elapsed, the true 10-year price tag comes into focus. From 2013 through 2022, the CBO reports, the costs of Obamacare come to $1.76 trillion–almost twice the phony original number.


But in the New York Times (3/23/12), Paul Krugman writes about

the way right-wing media create an alternate reality. For example, did you hear about how the cost of Obamacare just doubled? It didn’t, but millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners believe that it did.

Krugman didn’t delve into the details on this one. In his defense, he was attempting in the space of one column to debunk an array of right-wing misinformation, so he had serious word-count constraints.

So did the price tag for the health law just double? As puts it:

The law’s costs haven’t doubled, and CBO didn’t say they did. That claim results from an inappropriate apples-to-grapefruit comparison. The original gross cost estimate–at $938 billion over 10 years–was for 2010-2019. CBO’s latest $1.76 billion estimate is for 11 years, ending in 2022.

So Krauthammer–and others on the right–are comparing two entirely different time periods. What’s the real increase in costs associated with the health law? A little under 9 percent. Which is a lot less than double.

Even more important: The estimated net cost of the law–which factors in various penalties and cost-savings measures–has actually dropped slightly, according to the very same CBO report Krauthammer is using to tout a doubling of healthcare costs.

Krugman warned that “millions of Fox-viewers and Rush-listeners” were being misinformed on this topic. So are readers of the Washington Post, and all the other papers that will carry Krauthammer’s column.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.