CNN vs. Michael Moore: Round ?

CNN took another shot at establishing its credibility in its battle with Michael Moore with a set of detailed responses to issues that Moore raised about its coverage. I will skip a blow by blow assessment, and just address two of the key points that were raised.

1) CNN sought to question Moore‘s credibility by charging that he was wrong in saying that U.S. health care expenditures are $7,000 per person compared to Cuba‘s $251 per person. CNN claimed that U.S. expenditures are just $6,000 per person, while somehow getting a figure (aknowledged as an error) that Cuba spends $25 per person. Moore has supported his number with projections from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that per person spending for 2006 was $7,000 and $7,500 for 2007.

CNN claims that they were being straight and that Moore is guilty of comparing apples and oranges because he has different sources and is comparing projections for the U.S. with actual data for Cuba.

Actually, CNN’s response is rather scary since it suggests that CNN has no one familiar with social science research on their staff. It is common to use data from different sources, when data from the same source is unavailable. If there is reason to believe that there are important differences between the methodology used by the different sources, then this should be noted.

In this case, there do not appear to be any important differences in methodologies, only the year for which the estimate/projection is made. The data for Cuba is from United Nations Development Report. It is for 2003. It shows U.S. spending in that year at $5,711 per person. This is very close to the $5,952 figure shown by CMS for 2003, which suggests that there are no important differences in methodology between the two series. (The UN probably gets its data for the U.S. from CMS.)

The main reason for the difference between the $5,711 figure from 2003 and the $7,000 figure for 2006 and the $7,500 figure for 2007 is due to the year, not the methodology. It is perfectly understandable that Moore would want to use the most recent year for his movie — highlighting the fact that health care costs in the U.S. are exploding — and projections from CMS are generally viewed as being fairly reliable.

Moore can be faulted for not pointing out, if not in the movie at least in the subsequent debate, that the data for Cuba are four years out of date. It is almost certainly the case that costs in Cuba have also risen in this period. However, since Cuba is not experiencing a similar explosion in health care costs (at least not that I have heard), the increase in costs over this period was almost certainly much less. If we assume a figure of a 4 percent annual increase in costs, then the figures for 2007 would look something like U.S. $7,500, Cuba $294.

2) In a subsequent Moore-Gupta exchange on the Larry King show, Dr. Gupta said that Medicare is going bankrupt. Moore pointed out that, according to CMS, per person health care costs are actually growing much more rapidly in the private health care system than in Medicare. CNN stands by Dr. Gupta, pointing out that Moore does not dispute the fact that funding for the program is not assured beyond 2019.

As I said in a previous post, it is not clear what Dr. Gupta could mean by his assertion that Medicare is going bankrupt, except to inaccurately imply that there is a problem with the Medicare program that is distinct from the rising costs of the U.S. health care system.

While CNN is correct in saying that funding for a portion of Medicare (Part A) is not assured under current law beyond 2019, funding for most government programs is not even assured beyond the current fiscal year. Yet, CNN’s analysts have probably never asserted that the Defense Department or the Justice Department face bankruptcy because their funding for next year is not assured.

It is understandable that a partisan in the debate to privatize Medicare would claim that the program faces bankruptcy. It is difficult to see why an ostensibly neutral news outlet would make this claim, since it conveys no information to viewers.

Point — Moore

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