We failed to give a proper reading to part of PolitiFact’s Nov. 2019 Medicare For All explainer. Specifically, we failed to attach the claim about cutting costs in one paragraph to the examples offered in the following paragraph.
Do we think PolitiFact communicated poorly in the two paragraphs? Yes, but we offer that as a replacement critique, not as an excuse for our error.
PolitiFact should have clearly separated the justification Sen. Elizabeth Warren used for estimating lower costs, well below what the left-leaning Urban Institute projected, from methods Warren proposed for paying the costs of her plan.
Moreover, PolitiFact should not have included any sentence suggesting that Warren would lower costs by lowering costs. PolitiFact should have skipped that kind of placeholder and instead used something like “Warren’s lower estimate partly stems from the savings she predicts from spending less on overhead and on prescription drugs.”
To fix our mistake, we first eliminated two consecutive paragraphs:
Neither supposed explanation offered any kind of real explanation. Explaining Warren’s method of paying would involve naming the lower costs and why Warren expects those lower costs along with describing how acting to “spread the cost around” results in lower costs.
Lacking those explanations, the PolitiFact description of Medicare For All funding counts so far as smoke and mirrors.
We replaced those two paragraphs with these two paragraphs:
After telling its audience that Warren would lower costs by lowering costs, PolitiFact uses its next paragraph to mention Warren’s intent to save more on administration and prescription drugs than the Urban Institute would predict.
Instead, PolitiFact should have told its audience Warren thinks she can save more on administration and prescription drugs than the Urban Institute projects.
We also found it necessary to alter our summary paragraph. This was the original version:
PolitiFact misled its readers with fuzzy math on Sen. Warren’s Medicare For All plan, presenting $9 trillion in apparently new taxes as $9 trillion in cost savings. The fact checkers suggested Warren could cut costs by cutting costs. While true to a point, that fails to properly inform readers.
This is the new version (bold emphasis added):
PolitiFact misled its readers with fuzzy math on Sen. Warren’s Medicare For All plan, presenting $9 trillion in apparently new taxes as $9 trillion in cost savings. The fact checkers suggested Warren could cut costs by cutting costs instead of saying Warren expects greater savings on overhead and prescription drugs than the Urban Institute allows in its cost estimate.
We apologize to PolitiFact and to our readers for our misreading of the PolitiFact explainer article.
Note: This mistake came to our attention through self-review, not through our system of error reporting.