Mailbag: ‘I wish PolitiFact would stop endorsing junk statistics’

The PolitiFact mailbox is never this lonely. Here's a sampling of recent reader commentary.
The PolitiFact mailbox is never this lonely. Here's a sampling of recent reader commentary.

Spring is upon us, and so is baseball season, but that doesn’t mean all PolitiFact readers are in a cheery mood. Here are some recent emails we’ve received from readers, edited for space and clarity.

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Several readers commented on our fact check of a statement by Vice President Mike Pence that President Donald Trump’s proposal to allow Americans to buy health insurance across state lines would make it the same as "the way you buy car insurance" today. We rated that statement False, noting that state law already regulates car insurance in much the same way as it regulates health insurance.

"I find no fault with the facts in your article, but I feel like you are missing the point. There are at least five national insurers -- Allstate, GEICO, State Farm, Progressive and USAA -- who offer automobile coverage in all 50 states. Consumers have familiarity with these companies based on their massive advertising budgets and many years of personal experience, usually with more than one of them. There is a single company website and telephone number that consumers can use to get information from any state, and comparing and purchasing insurance is fairly straightforward and understandable, regardless of the coverage-limit particulars.

"In my personal experience, getting information about health insurers varies wildly from state-to-state, and the products are far more complex and difficult to compare. There are often subsidiary websites that are unique to a particular region, and consumers have to be more adept at navigating these complexities.

"So, not disputing any facts you presented, I still believe the health insurance purchasing experience could become much more like the auto insurance purchasing experience in a positive way. Reliable national insurers with transparent policies and lots of competition would improve both the quality of service and reduce prices, in my opinion, To dismiss the whole comparison as False seems to lack the nuance that is often relied upon to give other propositions a more positive rating."

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One reader took issue with our fact-check of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who said, "In recent years ... the Obama administration was committed to the notion, against all evidence, that we could reset relations with Putin." We rated that Half True.

"Having read your excellent explanatory article, it seems to me that the statement should be rated at least Mostly False, if not just False. According to the article, the ‘reset’ effort began after Vladimir Putin left office, and had pretty much fizzled by the time he was voted back in. Therefore, the reset attempt was with Russia, and very much not with Putin, as Rep. Nunes claims. I’m probably just nit-picking, but it seemed as though that point was missed in your evaluation of the statement."

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Several readers commented on our fact-check of a statement by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price that the Obama administration said "they were going to be able to drive folks away from one of the most expensive areas for the provision of health care, and that is the emergency rooms. In fact, they did just the opposite." We rated that Mostly True.

One reader who works in a nonprofit children's hospital emergency room said that from what they have seen, "the average acuity levels -- how sick the patients are -- seems to be going up, not down. When you combine this with increased patient count, it would seem to indicate not that people overall are sicker, but that there were a lot of sick people who didn't get medical care before the Affordable Care Act.

"Second, one of the largest subgroups we're seeing large increases with is mental health patients, which I think is primarily due to the perception that mental health care is seen as a mainstream medical issue and that it is covered by the ACA.

"A third factor is population growth combined with economic stresses. When you have a rapidly increasing population in a given area, the number of people accessing health care is going to increase proportionally. And given that at least some of that growth is due to economic migration, not to mention significant numbers of refugees fleeing violence, the new population is likely to come in with previously unaddressed serious health needs. When the local economy is also unstable, the population requiring emergency care is only going to increase.

"Overall, in my estimation, the number of ‘unnecessary’ emergency room visits has been decreasing, and over time, the number of visits per capita should level out and start to decrease."

Another reader offered a "missing piece of the puzzle."

"That would be the growth in free-standing emergency rooms in recent years. Many a person has gone to one thinking it was just another ‘doc-in-the-box’ or urgent-care facility, only to learn after the fact that it was an emergency room -- and charged ER rates."

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One reader took issue with our fact-check of a statement by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., that "if you add up the net wealth of his cabinet, it has more wealth than a third of the American people total -- close to 100 million people." We found that the numbers check out, but that it actually doesn’t take billions of dollars to be richer than the bottom third of of the United States. So we rated that Mostly True.

"I wish PolitiFact would stop endorsing junk statistics like the factoid cited by Schumer. By the same logic, if I’m a retiree living in an owner-occupied double-wide in St. Petersburg, Fla., on $16,000 a year but with no debts and a modest few hundred dollars in my bank account, I have ‘more net wealth’ than a newly-minted law school graduate from Yale who has not started to accumulate cash and securities as a result of his salary and is carrying $100,000 in student debt. Schumer and others use these trash stats in a dishonest way, to imply that Trump’s cabinet members have more ‘stuff’ than 100 million Americans. PolitiFact does note that most Americans, especially young adults, have little net wealth, but you are not nearly honest enough to address the implications clearly intended by this politician."

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A reader questioned why gave a Stalled rating, rather than a Promise Broken, to Trump’s promise that "real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare."

"Not only has the recent attempt at doing this failed, but ‘immediately’ has passed. Trump said many times that he was going to do this right away, as a top priority, and he -- and Congress -- failed to do so. Furthermore, the vote that didn't happen wasn't even a vote to repeal. There is no repeal on the table, because doing so would subject it to a filibuster in the Senate. If you wish to show this as Stalled, you should add a second, related promise that doesn't state that it will be done immediately."

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One reader added some additional context to our fact-check of a statement by former U.S. diplomat Nicholas Burns that "there are about as many members of the Armed Forces marching bands as there are American diplomats." We rated that Mostly False.

"You might note that during combat, band members have traditionally doubled as stretcher bearers, although during the Battle of the Bulge, the 28th Division Band was given weapons and sent to guard a critical intersection. They did not come back. On the other hand, diplomats exist to keep Defense Department personnel out of harm’s way, and to ensure they get help from allies if that does not work."

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A few readers passed along their appreciation for what PolitiFact does.

One wrote us to offer kudos for our article on how common it is for members of Congress to meet with foreign diplomats.

"It was so refreshing to read an article related to politics and find in the piece just plain, straight-up, factual reporting. What was once a benchmark for excellence in a journalist's factual reporting seems to have plunged into snark, bash, and bias. Yours was ‘’just the facts.’ Well done."

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Another wrote, "I am writing just to let you know how much outstanding work you are doing. I truly believe that fact-checking organizations like yours need to become part of the mainstream media and have a greater impact on voters. Unfortunately, the last election proved that that was not the case, but hopefully in 2020!"