A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of May 31-June 6

This week, readers sent us comments about the Republicans' Medicare proposal, gasoline prices, energy-efficient light bulbs, Mitt Romney and political ads in New York.

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.

GOP Medicare Plan

I participated in what I think would be characterized as insurance exchanges all my adult working life. While it may be true that the Republican plan ["DNC Chair Throws Truth to 'Wolves'," May 31] envisions a Medicare-sponsored exchange which features private insurers that agree to participate in it, seniors would be left on their own to pick the insurance company into which their Medicare vouchers (or subsidies) would allow them to buy. In my experience, I was offered the option of buying into several insurance companies or HMOs at varying premium rates which offered different coverage. Also, there were premium options where one paid more up front, but had a lower deductible or was covered for more services. Each insurance company had its own set of doctors who participated as preferred providers.

I am a reasonably intelligent woman with a Ph.D., and frankly I was extremely confused by all the options and offers. Being unable to anticipate my future medical needs, as are most people, I had no way of knowing which option at which premium I should select. Also, as medical costs rise, insurance companies could raise their rates at will. The “subsidy” would not necessarily go up at the same rate as the costs. I also would like to point out that while nearly every physician in my small town takes Medicare, most of them are loath to take Medicare Advantage plans, because the private insurers don’t like to pay for services and require much more paperwork than traditional Medicare.

All in all, since the Republican plan does not address these issues, I believe that it is totally accurate to say that the Ryan plan throws seniors to the wolves. Participation in a Medicare exchange does not guarantee an insurance company is a good option for a senior, and private, for-profit insurance companies will have every incentive to reduce coverage or increase premiums.

Edith M. Parko
Crossville, Tenn.


Paying at the Gas Pump

I read with interest the FactCheck e-mail on [“Playing Politics with Gasoline Prices,” May 27].

The statement that “nonpartisan congressional analysts and industry experts say higher taxes would have little or no effect on gasoline prices” strikes me as odd. Taxes are just another cost of doing business and, like all business costs, they must be paid by the company’s revenue stream, which ultimately comes from the consumer. To say that taxes have “no effect” is like saying that business costs have no effect on prices – or that crude prices have no effect on gas prices.

If taxes had “little or no effect,” the government could safely tax away ALL profit without hurting production. Obviously, that isn’t true.

Perhaps the analysts and experts the article refers to are thinking that taxes are like aspirin – a little is good, but a lot is not. Their economic thinking is lacking.

Neal Patterson
Waterville, Maine

If the concern over gas prices that is exciting everyone so much is simply about what we pay at the pump, I just don’t understand it.

If the average American drives 13,500 miles a year (a search online brought me to this more or less accurate number) and we assume your vehicle gets a miserable 15 m.p.g., that means you use 900 gallons a year. Assume an increase from $3.75 per gallon to $4.00 per gallon, i.e. 25 cents more per gallon. Then 900 x 0.25 = $225 per year, divided by 52 weeks = $4.33 cents a week divided by 7 days = 62 cents a day more out of pocket when gas is $4.00 a gallon. 

Why all the hot air over 62 cents a day? Drive more slowly, don’t idle for minutes at a time, keep your tires at the right pressure, keep your car tuned, plan shopping trips to prevent extra miles, drive less, carpool once a week, bring coffee and soda from home to work, pack your lunch instead of buying it out just once a week, cut out one six-pack of beer or one cheap bottle of wine a week…how many other ways must there be to save 62 cents a day?

If $225 a year is a burden, I’d have to assume you can’t manage money at all or perhaps are so strapped that you are already receiving assistance of some kind. If $225 a year more is a burden, I wonder how you can afford a car and all its other associated costs.

Can anyone explain this to me? Is it a complaint of truckers and costs they pass on that result in higher retail prices for other goods? That is not what you hear in the press. It is always the price at the pump for the noncommercial driver that is referenced. What is the reason for the overreaction to $4.00-a-gallon gas? Someone help me understand please why we should be so upset or why we can’t simply do the arithmetic and get over it.

Michael Gilman
East Falmouth, Mass.


New Light Bulbs

I read your FactCheck story on the light bulb issue ["Energy Efficient Bulb Costs," May 26]. Like every other section of the media you took a hard line on conservative statements while softening the blow to liberal statements. I see this in your stories all of the time. I don't refer to them as news articles because your opinions are not unbiased. You claim they are and to a small extent you're right, however, you know that your stories lean left (some way left). Why can't you guys be objective (truly objective)?

I'll give you the other side of the coin. Compact fluorescent light bulbs are toxic and not environmentally friendly. The new light bulbs can't just be swept up and thrown into the garbage like you are accustomed to doing. Special care has to be taken in the cleanup and disposal of the new bulbs because of the mercury content, however small. My niece had to go to the hospital for a breathing treatment after inhaling the vapor when she dropped the bulb and it broke.

The Democrats have voted to ban our conventional light bulbs — in favor of dangerous fluorescent bulbs. Now, you can argue that the new light bulbs are better for any number of reasons, but the bottom line is people will no longer be able to have what they are used to having. People will have to adjust because someone else (Washington) thinks they know what is better for them.

George Johnson
Clearwater, Fla.


Romney's Index

Perhaps his "rhetoric" ["Romney's 'Rhetorical' Misery Index," June 3] is a way of avoiding being fact-checked. If you avoid facts, there's nothing to be checked.

Jim Bullard
West Stockholm, N.Y.


Political Claims in N.Y.

From your article ["Test Market for Spin," May 19]:

"Republicans attack him as a puppet of Nancy Pelosi. Actually, he's a gun-owning life member of the National Rifle Association." As a liberal-leaning moderate who grew up on a farm with firearms used as tools, I fail to understand this logic. If someone is a member of the NRA, then they cannot be a sock puppet for Nancy Pelosi? How sound and bulletproof (pardon my pun) is that logic?

"Democrats also claim the Republican budget plan 'increases the national debt by $8 trillion' over 10 years. Actually, the GOP plan calls for $4.5 trillion less debt than projected under President Obama's budget." But it does call for increasing the national debt by $8 trillion, correct? You can add that the Democrats plan to increase it by $12.5 trillion but I tire of hearing Republicans planning to not increase the debt when they often do. If you're going to switch from debt total to projected debt, why don't you go the full distance and present these numbers as ratios of projected GDP and give us percentage increases?

Another question I have is why you don't call out weasel words when they're used. Like the phrase "would essentially end Medicare" used in this story by Democrats is the sort of half truth that needs to be called out. So why don't you call them out when, instead of making the logically falsifiable statement "would end Medicare," they use the ambiguous and unfalsifiable phrase "would essentially end Medicare"? I think it would benefit readers if you took some steps to strengthen logic and debate skills from a general standpoint. Even if it is a little "Didyaknow" box on a sidebar. As a voter, I spend enough time validating/invalidating statements made by politicians, I don't need fuzzy logic thrown at me.

David Johnson
Marshall, Minn.