PolitiFact misleads when it tells its readers "we are applying the same standards to both sides." PolitiFact's methodology leaves open myriad ways to put fingers on the scale. The scale has fingerprints all over it.
In this article we'll focus on yet another example of uneven application of standards. We'll look at two PolitiFact fact checks in the category of health care, one from a Republican and one from a Democrat.
On Nov. 30, 2020 PolitiFact published a fact check of Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) looking at her claim that her healthcare plan would protect Americans with preexisting conditions. PolitiFact issued a "False" judgment on Loeffler's claim.
Why the "False" rating?
PolitiFact's subheading suggested a lack of proof led to the rating: "No proof that Kelly Loeffler will ensure protections for preexisting conditions."
Aside from the lack of proof, PolitiFact noted that Loeffler's plan proposed using something like high risk pools to help people get their preexisting conditions covered. PolitiFact's "If Your Time is Short" story summary gave Loeffler credit for protections that fall short of those offered by the Affordable Care Act (second bullet):
If Your Time is short
The GOP Georgia senator’s new plan offers no details on how protections for people with preexisting health conditions would be ensured.
Two provisions in the plan indicate protections will be less than those provided by the Affordable Care Act, experts say.
Why did the protections in Loeffler's plan count for nothing on PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter"? The special insurance groups designed for those with preexisting conditions couldn't even budget the rating up to "Mostly False"? Did PolitiFact assume that when Loeffler said "Americans" she meant "all Americans"? If so, that rationale failed to find its way into the fact check.
People these days tend to know (using that term advisedly) that President Obama's "You can keep your plan" pledge received PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" in 2013. They've tended to forget, with help from PolitiFact, that the claim never received a Truth-O-Meter rating below "Half True." PolitiFact rated Obama's claim twice, in 2009 and in 2012. Both times it received a "Half True" rating.
We'll use the 2012 rating to see how PolitiFact's application of standards compared to the ones it used for Loeffler.
PolitiFact's summary paragraphs encapsulate its reasoning:
Obama has a reasonable point: His health care law does take pains to allow Americans to keep their health plan if they want to remain on it. But Obama suggests that keeping the insurance you like is guaranteed.
In reality, Americans are not simply able to keep their insurance through thick and thin. Even before the law has taken effect, the rate of forced plan-switching among policyholders every year is substantial, and the CBO figures suggest that the law could increase that rate, at least modestly, even if Americans on balance benefit from the law’s provisions. We rate Obama’s claim Half True.
PolitiFact says Obama has a reasonable point. PolitiFact made no mention in its fact check of Loeffler to detect whether she had a reasonable point that her health care plan offered protections for preexisting conditions. Is that the same standard?
PolitiFact says Obama "suggested" that keeping one's preferred insurance is guaranteed. That might parallel the assumption that Loeffler was saying her plan guarantees coverage for preexisting conditions. PolitiFact's ruling suggests it made that assumption, though the fact check does not say so specifically. But if Obama was similarly making a guarantee, how did he skate with a "Half True" instead of the "False" rating Loeffler's claim received? Is that the same standard?
And speaking of guarantees, remember that PolitiFact docked Loeffler for not having proof that her plain would cover (all?) those with preexisting conditions. What proof did Obama's plan offer? Apparently none, as PolitiFact noted a Congressional Budget Office assessment saying the ACA would accelerate force churn of insurance plans. Is that the same standard?
We say the same standard did not apply to both. If Loeffler's "False" stems from her leading people to falsely believe her plan guarantees coverage for preexisting conditions then Obama's similar misleading would seem to equally earn a "False" rating. Or, both Loeffler and Obama could receive a "Half True" rating.
That they received quite different ratings shows the application of differing standards.
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