Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Tiger or the Tiger?

In the tale of the lady and the tiger, a man was asked to choose one of two doors. Behind one was a beautiful bride, behind the other was a ferocious man-eating tiger. But at least the man had options.


Cut to this story about baby boomer fears that Medicare won't be there for them:

Initially, 63 percent of boomers in the poll dismissed the idea of raising the eligibility age to keep Medicare afloat financially. But when the survey forced them to choose between raising the age or cutting benefits, 59 percent said raise the age and keep the benefits.
However one feels about raising the eligibility age for Medicare, this is a misleading way of presenting the option. Suppose that I live to be 75 and that starting at 65 my Medicare benefit averages $500 per year for a total payout of $5000. If the eligibility age is raised to 70, the payout drops to $2500. That is a cut in benefits, which means that far from presenting a real choice, the poll in effect manipulates respondents into selecting an option without presenting meaningful alternatives. 


Worse, the story frames the discussion as if raising the eligibility age for Medicare benefits is the only alternative to bankrupting the system, and that's simply not the case. Rather than direct people to think narrowly, journalism should facilitate consideration of a wider, more imaginative context. That's especially important in health care; it's too bad that the media doesn't seem to have gotten the message.