I hate to steal Brad DeLong’s line, but why can’t we have a better press corps?
Wednesday’s New York Times runs a story claiming that the prescription drug plan may turn out to be a plus for the Republicans after all. I suppose that’s barely possible. But the story never mentions the major reason it probably won’t be true: the “donut hole.”
Here’s how one website — which the Times reporters could have found in a fraction of a second using the same Google search I used — explains the program:
After a $250 deductible, patients pay 25% of the next $2000 in drug costs (or up to $500 in expenditures).
If patients spend more than $2250 in total drug costs, there is no insurance coverage for the next $2850 in drug costs. This is often called the “donut-hole” or “coverage gap” in the prescription drug program. Patients are expected to pay this amount out-of-pocket.
Lastly, after the additional $2850 in out-of-pocket costs, coverage resumes at a rate of 95%, with patients only paying 5% of remaining drug costs, unlimited until the end of the calendar year.
Let’s see: it’s six months to Election Day. So anyone who has coverage by now and spends at least $400 a month on drugs will run out of coverage before it’s time to vote; those who signed up earlier will run out even if they spend somewhat less.
So pretty soon now — and well before November — seniors in large numbers are going to start running into that gap. They’re going to show up at the pharmacy with their shiny Part D card and be told that they’re going to have to pay full retail price for their drugs. (Because, of course, the Republicans who wrote the fill forbade Medicare from negotiating the same discounts the big hospital chains get.)
Yes, all that was in the plan documents. But I doubt that’s going to make those folks feel any better, or react with any less fury. Instead of just asking seniors whether they think the plan will cut their costs, why didn’t the poll ask questions designed to figure out how many of them knew about the donut hole and what it meant for them? To say that they’re happy now is like reporting that the man who jumped from the observation deck of the Empire State Building still felt fine as he fell past the 40th floor.
I can’t see how to attribute this to any sort of bias on the part of the Times or its reporters. Even if I thought that the Times management was as willing to go into the tank for Bush as the management of the Washington Post, I can’t see how omitting the key operational fact now would serve any purpose. (Omitting that fact when the plan was before the Congress was a different story.)
It’s not as if a newspaper account that gives Republicans what is almost surely false comfort, and which most of the candidates and consultants must know is false comfort, actually helps the Republican cause. The most likely explanation is simply that the reporters don’t know beans about the actual program on whose politics they’re reporting.
I’m not criticizing here from the perspective of an expert complaining that not everyone knows as much as he does about his pet topic, as I sometimes do when the topic is drugs or crime. Health policy isn’t my thing. I haven’t followed Part D in any detail. I had to look up the details of the “donut hole.” But I’d heard of it, and the reporters for the national newspaper of record apparently hadn’t. That’s scary.