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Biden, Cruz stretch facts on gun background checks and Medicaid

By Phillip Swarts

Friday - 4/12/2013, 5:49pm  ET

Spring is in the air inside the nation's capital, and unfortunately so are some misleading statements from politicians.

Vice President Joe Biden, for example, waxed poetic about the National Rifle Association's support for gun purchase background checks during the 1990's - support he exaggerated.  And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that expanding Medicare will worsen health care options for poor, a statement not backed up by the studies he cites.

For the latest round of Washington misspeak, VP Biden and Sen. Cruz are awarded the Whopper of the Week, a distinction handed out by the Washington Guardian to examples of miscues and stretched facts from political figures.

Biden's comments came Tuesday to a group of law enforcement personnel visiting the White House.  

"I thought we reached a consensus on that convicted felons, that people with serious mental illness and adjudicated as such, that fugitives, that wife beaters, that they shouldn’t be able to own a gun," the vice president said. "If I’m not mistaken, because I did this last time in '84, everybody, including the NRA, thought background checks made sense."

He then went on to call that the "good old days" of compromise on guns.

But Biden's view of history seems to be forgetting just how contentious some of those proposals and policies were.  In fact, just like today, the NRA had been fighting most background checks tooth and nail.  During the 90's they worked with several Republican lawmakers to try to stop a five-day waiting period for gun purchases that was part of the gun-control Brady Bill, including proposing a series of "instant background checks" instead that would remove the delay.

A compromised was reached, and the five-day waiting period was implemented until such time as a nation-wide system of "instant background checks" could be implemented.  When the FBI finally did establish the quicker system, the NRA sued to ensure that background check information wasn't kept on file for long for fear of establishing a "national gun registry."

So the NRA has been fairly consistent in its opposition to background checks, despite Biden's rose-colored glasses.

Meanwhile, another contentious issue - healthcare - was Sen. Cruz's target.

"Our friends who are saying they want health care do not realize that expanding Medicaid will worsen health care options for the most vulnerable among us in Texas," he said at an event in Austin held with Gov. Rick Perry.

Part of President Barack Obama's new healthcare law gives states funds to help the uninsured get Medicaid.  But Cruz doesn't seem worried about the financial aspect so much as the quality of care.

He said as much in a March speech he gave from the Senate floor.

"The data demonstrates Medicaid beneficiaries face worse health outcomes than just about anybody else in the marketplace," he said, then cited a 2010 study by the Annals of Surgery: "Medicaid patients, when compared to people without health insurance, people who were uninsured, Medicaid patients were 13 percent more likely to die. They stayed in the hospital for 50 percent longer and cost 20 percent more."

The truth, however, is slightly more muddled than Cruz suggests.  It's possible that a rapid expansion of Medicaid could put a financial strain on the system that would hurt care in the future - something opponents have argued - but that's not exactly what the senator said.

Instead, Cruz selectively chose facts from several studies his office listed, none of which reached his conclusion that Medicaid makes healthcare worse.

While some said that moving from no insurance to Medicaid support lessened the quality of care, others said the exact opposite.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that patients on Medicaid had "better self-reported physical and mental health."  So there isn't a consistent consensus on the effects of Medicaid on healthcare.

Plus, some of the studies covered not-typical uninsured patients, such as those receiving high quality medical care through charities.  Their care would almost certainly drop if they were put on Medicaid, the studies found.

It was a colorful week in Washington.  Biden looked through rosy glasses at the NRA's history and Cruz tried to present an issue as black and white, even though it's more of a grey matter.  But both men made remarks that just don't hold up to the facts.