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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of July 27-Aug. 2

This week, readers sent us gripes about our criticism of a Medicare ad, and a couple of nice compliments.

In the FactCheck Mailbag, we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Medicare Advantage and ‘Weasel Words’

Brooks Jackson at FactCheck.org claims [in "Mayberry Misleads on Medicare," July 31] that the ad is misleading because “the new law is guaranteed to result in benefit cuts for one class of Medicare beneficiaries – those in Medicare Advantage plans.” In addition, he calls the term “guaranteed Medicare benefits” a “weasel word.” This is not accurate.

The term “guaranteed benefits” is commonly used to refer to the set of benefits required by Medicare law, a term that has been used in this context for many years. AARP uses this same term for the same concept, most recently in its mailer describing the changes to Medicare resulting from the Affordable Care Act. President George W. Bush described his principles for his policy on Medicare as striving to preserve the “benefit guarantee.” Medicare beneficiaries know what their guaranteed benefits are and want them protected.

While Medicare Advantage plans will no longer get excessive, unjustified payments, they have numerous tools to keep their costs competitive with those of Medicare, such as reducing overhead, improving quality, and better managing chronic diseases.

Peter Ashkenaz
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Media Affairs
Washington, D.C.


Weasel words indeed — but they are yours! "benefits will remain the same" was never said in the video — only in your deliberate MISinterpretation. I doubt that there is a senior in a Medicare Advantage program who is still unaware that the EXTRA benefits provided by the insurer — not medicare — MAY– not WILL — be reduced. Every senior under Medicare will have exactly the same benefits now as before. That is indisputable. What may be modified are the extra benefits that are not in Medicare that some insurers have been selling to entice members so that the insurers can obtain a substantial extra payment from Medicare. Shame on you!

Salem Spitz
Gilbert, Ariz.


You’re really wrong and totally off-base with your complaints about the new Andy Griffith/Medicare ad from the Obama administration.

The "guaranteed" benefits are STILL guaranteed, and that’s what the ad says. Medicare Advantage benefits were NEVER guaranteed, and it’s dishonest for you to classify them as similar to the guaranteed benefits that older people DO get and will STILL get!

It’s you guys who are parsing words here, and it’s not the ad that’s using "weasel words."

It’s despicable what you guys do sometimes — just despicable.
I typically appreciate what your group does, but at times, you really blow it – like with this coverage.

Sue Runyon
Pflugerville, Texas


While I have the greatest respect for your organization and its objectives, I take grave exception to your piece on the Andy Griffith TV ad. What you failed to explain is that the federal government is using public money to pay private insurers additional money for their subscribers because they choose to offer them greater benefits. The original claim was that private insurers could provide more services to their subscribers than traditional Medicare subscribers with the same amount of money. Instead, they’ve gone back to the government for more money. This is an absolute outrage. If those participating in these private plans want to receive better benefits, then they should be the ones required to pay for them not the federal government.

Stuart Singer
Arlington, Texas


FactCheck.org responds: We take no position on whether or not benefits available to Medicare Advantage beneficiaries are "excessive" or "unjustified," as the Medicare spokesman states.

Whether or not the term "guaranteed benefits" has a specific meaning to Washington policy experts, we believe it is misleading to tell the general public that "like always, we’ll have our guaranteed benefits." The truth is that millions of MA participants will see their benefits reduced.


And a Couple of Kudos

This is a great site for those of us who want a source of reality. Unfortunately most people don’t let the facts get in the way of their opinions.

Duane Massey
Houston, Texas


Thanks for your website. You seem more balanced and serious than some of the other fact-finding sites.

Martha Akin
Chattanooga, Tenn.