PolitiFact Gives Opposite Statements The Exact Same Rating

Holmes Lybrand | Fact Check Editor at The Daily Caller News Foundation

PolitiFact came to opposite conclusions on the same subject, with the only apparent difference being distinctly partisan.

Several claims that Obamacare would cut Medicare were rated “Mostly False” by PolitiFact back in 2012. A recent statement that the Republican health proposal would not cut Medicaid, however, was rated “Mostly False.” These two rulings are in complete contradiction with one another.

Medicare is a federal program that gives health coverage to seniors and those with severe disabilities, whereas Medicaid is a federal and state program that gives health coverage to certain people with low income.

Obamacare effectively decreased the rate of growth of Medicare’s budget and used those future funds for Obamacare instead. The Senate health bill in 2017 would similarly decrease the rate of growth for Medicaid, were it to pass. In both of these cases, the rate of growth still increases, just at slower rates.

In 2012, PolitiFact noted that “while the health care law reduces the amount of projected spending increases in Medicare, the law doesn’t cut Medicare.” The claim that Medicare underwent “cuts” was rated “Mostly False.”

When Mitt Romney made the claim that then-President Barack Obama robbed Medicare to pay for Obamacare, PolitiFact was quick to defend the sitting president.

“First things first: Neither Obama nor his health care law literally cut a dollar amount from the Medicare program’s budget. Rather, the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program,” the fact-checking site read.

The article continues by suggesting that statements accusing Obamacare of cutting Medicare are “Half True or Mostly False, depending on the wording and context.”

In 2017, PolitiFact changed its tune. When Kellyanne Conway claimed that there “are not cuts to Medicaid,” the fact checkers were quick to rate the statement  “Mostly False.” PolitiFact did admit that “the Republican health care proposals would slow the rate at which Medicaid spending increases, but spending would still increase,” which is a correct analysis.

The rating was maintained because the Republican health care bill would have changed who is eligible for Medicaid. In order to justify the seemingly contradictory rating of “Mostly False,” PolitiFact moved the goal posts as to what constituted a “cut.”

So even though, under the Senate health bill, Medicaid’s spending increases would have slowed but still increased — similar to Obamacare’s effect on Medicare — the claim that it would not undergo a cut was rated “Mostly False.” Yet when claims were made that Obamacare did cut Medicare, such claims were also rated as “Mostly False.”

Can a slower growth rate be defined as a cut? Apparently, it depends on who made the claim.

The Washington Post’s Fact Check columnist Glen Kessler said in 2011 that “the politically radioactive word ‘cut’ is a misnomer” when it was used to describe Obamacare’s effects on Medicare. Kessler further clarified that “under the health-care law, Medicare spending will continue to increase year after year, but at a slower pace than anticipated.”

But in a fact check analysis from July 19, 2017, Kessler explains why the Senate health care bill could be considered as making cuts to Medicaid, depending on how individuals talk about tax cuts. “If a politician says there are tax cuts, they must also say there are Medicaid cuts.”

Bryan White, of ZebraFactCheck.com, who tipped off The Daily Caller News Foundation to PolitiFact and WaPo’s contradictions, has done his own extensive analysis surrounding the incongruence between the fact checks on the health care “cuts.”

Either PolitiFact and Kessler have changed their stance on what constitutes a cut without alarming the reader, or they care more about who is making the claim rather than the claim itself.

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Holmes Lybrand

Fact Check Editor at The Daily Caller News Foundation