On Medicaid “Cuts”… Et Tu, Ted Nesi?


Say it with me:  There are no “cuts” to Medicaid in Congressional Republicans’ health care reforms.

It’s all well and good (and often accurate) to assume that journalists who perpetuate the Democrats’ talking points do so out of either partisan fealty or a personal bias that amounts to the same thing (albeit unconscious).  I simply can’t believe that of WPRI’s Ted Nesi, though, which leaves me unable to explain why he would use his work product to further the false impression that Rhode Island’s Democrat governor, Gina Raimondo, wants to sow across the local public for her own crass political purposes:

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Wednesday she is deeply concerned about U.S. Senate Republicans’ proposed health care bill, suggesting Rhode Island would struggle to handle the deep cuts to Medicaid funding the party’s leaders are contemplating. …

Medicaid, the health program for low-income individuals, makes up roughly one-fourth of Rhode Island’s state budget, with about $2.4 billion in spending and 325,000 enrollees last year. About half of that cost is picked up by the federal government. The Congressional Budget Office said this week the GOP health bill would reduce federal Medicaid funding by 26% by 2026.

Ted could nearly have salvaged his article if he’d squeezed in the phrase “in comparison with what CBO projects under current law,” as the CBO does in its report.  Without that phrase, a reader is apt to believe that the Republicans want to cut Medicaid by one-quarter from where it is now.  That’s simply false.  Our president might call it “fake news.”

I say that using the phrase would have “nearly” covered Ted’s bases because that phrase alone would have left out context that, in my view, changes the entire conclusion that a reasonable reader should draw from the story.  In fairness, the CBO leaves out this context, too, but one additional Internet search shouldn’t be too much for journalists to undertake.

Here’s the bottom line.  According to its January 2017 baseline estimates, the CBO expects Medicaid spending to grow to $616 billion.  That’s up from $368 billion in 2016, which is a 67% increase in annual spending over 10 years.  The CBO’s scoring of the Senate bill is that it would reduce Medicaid spending by $158 billion in 2026, leaving it at $458 billion, which is up $90 billion from 2016, or 24%.

In other words, Nesi’s (and everybody else’s) reporting gives the impression that Medicaid will be cut by about one-quarter, but it leaves out the fact that federal Medicaid spending is expected to increase by about one-quarter over the same period even with the reform.  I mean, come on.  What good is reporting that gives an exact opposite impression from the truth?

That’s the bare minimum context.  Not everybody knows how to calculate a compound annual growth rate (CAGR), so doing so would be a bonus.  What the CBO is saying (without saying it) is that the Republicans in the U.S. Senate want to reduce the growth in federal Medicaid spending from 5.3% every year to 2.2% every year.

From where I sit, that changes the story entirely.  We’re hearing about “cuts” to Medicaid that will “devastate” state budgets and hurt people, but the real story is that we have a welfare benefit that is currently on a devastating path and that the Republicans are at least responsible enough to rein in.

ADDENDUM (6/29/17 10:14 a.m.):

Nesi has added a phrase that “nearly salvages” the article, as I describe above.

  • As I’ve already replied to you, via Twitter, most “reporters” are rather lazy about seeking out any kind of alternative viewpoints when covering press releases.

    • It must also be asked to what extent Ted Nesi may well be a fellow traveler, not just an unbiased observer.

  • Mike678

    Gina knows the Federal gravy train is slowly coming to a halt–the increasing national debt and downgrades to the Federal bond rating all point to end-game. If we can’t spend 120% of what we earn, cuts–real cuts, not slowed growth–will come. She’s just trying to shift blame–it’s not MY profligate spending that’s breaking the budget–it’s federal cuts that will force me to increase taxes and fees!. The victim card–yet again. Is it really that hard to try to be a leader? To be responsible?

  • Bill Corcoran

    It’s sad that nearly 1 in 3 Rhode Islanders are on Medicaid.