From my perspective, having covered this issue in the past, the coverage seems somewhat better than it was years ago. But: there has been little examination of what might happen if Medicare is divided into two parts, one with vouchers, the other with traditional Medicare—what experts call the “death spiral” for traditional Medicare.

And there is still way too much he said/she said reporting on this issue, in which reporters assume each side’s argument carries equal weight, even when they don’t, resulting in a faux balance. An NPR interview last week featuring Joe Antos, who represents the American Enterprise Institute, and Neuman of the Kaiser Family Foundation comes to mind. So does a piece that ran Sunday in the Tampa Bay Tribune, which is classic he said/she said. The dueling positions were headspinning.

The new spin

The media are beginning to understand that the president’s cuts to Medicare do not affect basic benefits. Now a new line of attack from the GOP is emerging. Antos on the NPR Morning Edition segment warned that seniors may find it harder to find the care they want—access problems, in other words—as a result of the spending cuts. “If you take enough money out of the Medicare program,” he said, “eventually you will run into access problems for seniors.”

On the NewsHour Friday, National Review editor Rich Lowry told Judy Woodruff that “technically they don’t hit benefits, the cuts. But when you are hitting the providers, the physicians, and the hospitals as hard as these cuts do year over year, they become totally unsustainable.”

The specter of rationing rides again! Still, Lowry’s comments touches on the crux of the nation’s health care dilemma: How do we control costs? On whose backs will sacrifice fall?

Each time there’s an attempt to reduce what providers are paid, they fight back, refusing to care for Medicare patients or threatening to do that. And that raises a question for jounos to explore: Is the country serious about reducing the national health care tab? And if so, how should it be done?

Trudy Lieberman’s “Medicare primer” is here. And an archive of her critiques of press coverage of the issue is here.


Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.