What Does USA Today Know About ObamaCare?


How much misinformation can you pack into a single article? USA Today makes a valiant attempt to find out with this article on what Americans do and don't know about ObamaCare. Here's how it starts:

True or false: The new health care law will cut Medicare benefits for seniors. It will slash Medicare payments to doctors. It will ration health care.

In three polls conducted last month, large percentages of Americans answered "true" to each statement. All three are false.

Sorry, no. As Cato's Michael Cannon points out, two out of those three statements are, in fact, very much true—and the third is potentially confusing enough that you could forgive a non-wonk for misunderstanding:

First, ObamaCare will cut p

ayments to the private health insurance companies that provide coverage to the 20 percent of Medicare enrollees who participate in the Medicare Advantage program.  That will eliminate many types of coverage for seniors in Medicare Advantage.  That should be painfully obvious, but if you require confirmation, visit FactCheck.org.  ObamaCare will also ratchet down the price controls that Medicare uses to pay hospitals and many other health care providers.  It should likewise be obvious that that will reduce access to services that are ostensibly "guaranteed" to all enrollees.  But again, if you need confirmation, check in with Medicare's chief actuary, who works for President Obama.  We can debate whether that's good or bad.  What's not up for debate: ObamaCare in fact "will cut Medicare benefits for seniors."

Second, it is also true—ipso facto—that ObamaCare "will ration health care."  To ration is to limit consumption.  When ObamaCare reduces coverage for Medicare Advantage enrollees and reduces access to care for all Medicare enrollees, it limits seniors' consumption of medical care.  We can debate whether that's good or bad.  What's not up for debate: that is rationing.

Finally, yes, it is technically false that ObamaCare "will slash Medicare payments to doctors."  But since current law will slash Medicare payments to doctors if Congress does nothing, and since an earlier version of ObamaCare would have eliminated those cuts, but ObamaCare's architects dropped that provision so as to make ObamaCare appear deficit-neutral… well, perhaps the public can be forgiven if it confuses "eliminating a provision that would have prevented cuts in Medicare payments to doctors" with "slashing Medicare payments to doctors."

The administration and its supporters have hitched themselves to the idea that the law's lack of popularity stems from the fact that the public just doesn't know what's in the law—and, in particular, that the public is ignorant of the law's many benefits. And sure, with any law as complex as the PPACA, there's bound to be some confusion. But as I argued in February, we've had reasonably good evidence for a while that, at least in comparison to the usual level of public knowledge about government affairs, the public actually has a pretty good idea of what provisions are in the law—even the benefits. And yet most (though not all) polls continue to show that the law's unpopularity remains higher than its popularity. Maybe they know what they're getting themselves into—even if USA Today doesn't.