Call the doctor! Truthiness in critical condition
By Willoughby Mariano
Published on Sunday, May 8th, 2011 at 6:00 a.m.
Truthiness was in critical condition at PolitiFact Georgia last week.
Our team published three fact checks in a row on health care. The first from presidential hopeful Herman Cain on CT scans flat-lined. One by U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia on Internal Revenue Service agents and the health care overhaul was DOA.
Another by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about hospital care survived and is in good condition.
Even on issues outside of health care, truthiness looked at least a little bit puny. A claim by Donald Trump that the U.S. no longer builds bridges needed major surgery, as did a statement by MARTA’s chairman that the transit system is getting safer.
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Potential presidential candidate Herman Cain: "In Canada, the number of CT scan machines per 1,000 people is like one-tenth of what we have here in this country. That's why people have to wait."
Both Republicans and Democrats hope to wield concerns over health care as a weapon in the upcoming presidential and congressional elections. Some have already started swinging away.
Last month, Cain made his statement about CAT scans in The Root, an online magazine on black perspectives. Cain, a cancer survivor, said longer waits could put cancer patients like him in danger.
Cain would not tell us where he got his numbers, so we found the data ourselves.
Canada had 12.7 CT scanners per 1 million residents in 2007, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The United States had 34.3 per million in 2007, according to the most recent data available.
It’s not "like one-tenth." It’s more like one-third.
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "One of three patients hospitalized [is] harmed by the care they receive."
It’s no secret that health care costs are rising, but this recent comment by a White House Cabinet member about that care’s quality surprised us.
The secretary’s office said her claim came from a recent study in the journal Health Affairs. The study’s headline said that adverse effects from medical care in hospitals may be 10 times greater than previously believed. Several newspapers reported the findings.
Sebelius repeated information from a report that falls in line with other research showing that the problem of medical errors is progressively getting worse. Although the report has not been disputed, there are a few caveats. The researchers used a broad definition of adverse events. Some of the effects were not life-threatening. The research covered a short period of time. We rate the Sebelius claim as Mostly True.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss: Says the Internal Revenue Service estimated it must hire "16,500 agents at a cost of $10 billion to the taxpayer" to enforce the federal health care overhaul.
When a constituent wrote to Chambliss, R-Ga., in support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, his office replied with a three-page defense of his opposition to the federal health care overhaul that included the IRS agent claim.
That’s nearly the population of Decatur, we thought. Is this correct?
We found that Chambliss’ claim has led a long existence with several incarnations, all of which are misleading.
The 16,500 figure did not come from the IRS, but from Republican members of Congress who opposed the overhaul.
That estimate was for employees, not "agents." And it didn’t account for overhead costs, which even the claim’s supporters acknowledged would likely lower the jobs number.
For 2012, the IRS estimate is 1,269, mostly in non-enforcement roles.
Chambliss’ statement not only repeated an oft-criticized, misleading claim. He got it wrong.
Donald Trump: "We don't have bridges being built" in the United States.
Now that President Barack Obama has released his original birth certificate, Trump wants to talk about other things.
Like bridges. More specifically, that the United States isn't building them anymore while China is. It has become a regular talking point for the real estate mogul/potential Republican presidential candidate in recent media appearances.
Bridge experts we spoke with rattled off a number of major bridges recently completed or well under way, so Trump has overreached with his claim.
But allowing for the possibility that Trump was exercising a bit of hyperbole to make a point about needing to prioritize infrastructure investment for things like new bridges -- an issue that data suggest is a valid and pressing concern -- we rate Trump's statement Half True.
MARTA Board Chairman Jim Durrett: According to crime statistics, "riding MARTA has been becoming more and more safe over the years."
An attack on two Delta Air Lines employees on a MARTA train revived public anxiety over safety on the transit system. Durrett made the comment on crime during an April 28 radio interview.
More and more safe? What about the fatal throat-slashing of a 14-year-old at the Five Points station? And the March 2010 slaying of a chess champ at the East Point station?
Overall, crime on MARTA dropped a whopping 42 percent during the past decade, according to FBI data.
But violent crime rose 8 percent, even as ridership dipped by 6 percent, according to federal statistics. The increase in violent crime is more dramatic -- 36 percent -- over a five-year period.
Riders are much less likely to have their wallets swiped. Still, they are somewhat more likely to be violently attacked.
Durrett earns a Half True.
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