Politifact’s logic failure

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on September 21, 2009

I seriously cannot make this up.

Check out the Politifact.com summaries for their “fact check” of two statements by the National Right to Life Committee regarding Democrat Sen. Max Baucus’ health care reform plan.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way back up. It is true that the Baucus bill “contains provisions that would send massive federal subsidies directly to both private insurance plans and government-chartered cooperatives that pay for elective abortion.”

At the same time, it is false that “federal funds would subsidize coverage of elective abortions.”

To which I reply, money is fungible.

If one statement is true, then they are both true. Pardon my choice of words, but you can’t split this baby in half. If you’re using federal funds to subsidize an insurance plan, and that insurance plan offers coverage for elective abortion, then federal funds are subsidizing elective abortion. It is fundamentally dishonest to claim that somehow the subsidized part is only the check-ups, hip replacements and angiograms and the unsubsidized parts are abortion, open-heart surgery and ingrown toenails.

Politifact rests its “nuanced” analysis on this bit from the Baucus bill:

The Baucus plan explicitly states that no federal funds -- whether through tax credits or cost-sharing credits -- could be used to pay for abortions (again, unless the pregnancy is due to rape, incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger).

Insurers participating in any state-based exchange that offers coverage for abortion "must segregate from any premium and cost-sharing credits an amount of each enrollee's private premium dollars that is determined to be sufficient to cover the provision of those services." The Health and Human Services secretary would also have to estimate, on an average actuarial basis, the cost of abortion coverage (not less than $1 per month). And any money used for abortions would have to come out of that pot of money. So the dollars would be technically segregated. And lastly, every state exchange would have to provide one plan that covers abortion and one that does not.

So, the money specifically for the abortions has to come out of the insured person’s pocket, but of course it’s easier for that person to pay that little premium because the taxpayer is subsidizing the other portion of the premium.

It’s like the taxpayer pays for basic cable and Politifact.com says that the taxpayer isn’t subsidizing someone’s TV-watching because they’re paying extra for the digital channels. Of course, you can’t get the digital channels without having basic cable first.

Again. Money is fungible – wherever it is. It’s fungible at the government level. It’s fungible at the insurance company or co-op level. It’s fungible if it’s in Jane Six-Pack’s pocket.

A refresher course in basic logic and economics (specifically opportunity costs) would do wonders for the Politifact.com staff.


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September 2009



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