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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Hawaiian Whopper

An ad by Republican Senate candidate Linda Lingle in the Aloha State is telling a real whopper — about us.

Her ad says that FactCheck.org rated a claim made by her opponent as “the worst political deception of the year,” and it shows our logo with a headline reading “Whopper of the Year.” The fact is we have never run a headline saying that, and have never singled out any one political falsehood as the worst.


Lingle’s ad takes aim at a claim made in an ad by Rep. Mazie Hirono, her Democratic opponent — that Lingle’s plan would turn Medicare “into a private-insurance voucher program that could raise seniors’ out-of-pocket health care costs over $6,000.”

It’s true that we’ve criticized such claims when made by President Obama and other Democrats. And it’s also true that we have included that claim among several Democratic and Republican “Whoppers of 2012” — although that was an article we posted Oct. 31, several days after Lingle’s ad started, and it was not on our list in 2011 as the Lingle ad claims. Nor was it the “Lie of the Year” that our friends at PolitiFact.com singled out in December 2011, if that is what the Lingle campaign was thinking.

‘Whopper of the Year’?

On Oct. 15, the Hirono campaign released a TV ad comparing Lingle’s Medicare plan to one proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, and embraced by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

The ad says, “Mitt Romney and Linda Lingle, turning Medicare into a private-insurance voucher program that could raise seniors’ out-of-pocket health care costs over $6,000.”

The Romney-Ryan plan for Medicare involves giving future Medicare beneficiaries the option of choosing either traditional Medicare or a private health insurance option through a health care exchange. The beneficiaries would buy their insurance with the help of a “premium-support payment” from the federal government. Lingle has said that her Medicare Choice plan for beneficiaries would work in a very similar fashion.

But the claim that this could raise seniors’ health care costs “over $6,000” is based on a Congressional Budget Office analysis of Ryan’s 2011 proposal, which is now outdated. The current Romney-Ryan plan ties the government subsidies to the cost of the second-cheapest plan, which can’t rise faster than GDP plus 0.5 percent. That’s a more generous offering than Ryan’s original proposal. And while the CBO said that it was possible “beneficiaries might face higher costs” under the new plan, it didn’t attempt to say how much due to some uncertainty.

In response, the Lingle campaign released an ad saying that Hirono’s claim had been labeled the “worst political deception of the year.” The citation for that claim is our “The Whoppers of 2011” article. But the campaign got ahead of itself because the claim about the potential for rising health care costs for seniors was not on our list in 2011. It made our list of the “Whoppers of 2012, Final Edition,” which was published more than a week after the Lingle ad first aired on Oct. 20. Democrats’ claim that Republicans would “end Medicare” made our 2011 list, which is a completely different claim.

Furthermore, we didn’t call either claim the “worst political deception of the year,” or the “whopper of the year,” as the ad suggests that we did. Our whoppers lists are a roundup of the most egregious claims during a campaign season. We don’t single out one particular claim over another.

The Lingle ad also repeats the misleading claim that the Affordable Care Act, which Hirono voted for, cuts Medicare funding by $716 billion. The “cuts” are actually reductions in the future growth of Medicare spending — not benefits — over a 10-year period. The Obama administration hopes to achieve its goal by reducing the growth of payment levels to hospitals as well as Medicare Advantage. Those spending reductions are projected to extend Medicare’s solvency through 2024.

Note: A special thanks to Bob Kern of Honolulu, Hawaii, for bringing the Lingle ad to our attention.

— D’Angelo Gore