A Shopworn Lie

One of the louder voices opposing Gov. Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan is the libertarian Beacon Center of Tennessee, which has just launched a new radio ad running in the Knoxville media market. The ad, framed as a conversation between a senior citizen and her daughter, resurrects one of the right’s most dubious (but nonetheless durable) canards on this issue:

DAUGHTER: “In fact, the Medicaid expansion will be paid in part by $716 billion in cuts to seniors’ Medicare benefits.”

MOM: “To give health insurance to able bodied adults?”

DAUGHTER: “You got it.”

It’s always good practice to begin a factually debunked assertion with the words “in fact.” This claim has been fact-checked so many times it should take up residence in the fact-checking hall of fame. But since Beacon thinks the way to build opposition to health insurance for the working poor is to recycle a lie, let’s go at it once more, with feeling.

The origin of that $716 billion number is an analysis by the Congressional Budget Office back in 2012 in response to a request from House Speaker John Boehner for an estimate of the cost of repealing Obamacare. On page 13 of its 22 page analysis, the CBO said that “Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over the 2013-2022 period.”

Does that sentence mean, as the Beacon ad claims, that Medicaid expansion will be paid for by $716 billion in cuts to Medicare benefits? As the highly respected Annenberg Public Policy Center’s FactCheck.org has noted, the $716 billion is an estimate of the decline in future growth of Medicare spending owing to reductions in growth of payments to hospitals and providers, diminished subsidies for Medicare Advantage plans, and savings anticipated as a result of reimbursement system changes. The claim that projected declines in future spending growth represent cuts of Medicare benefits to seniors, they conclude, is “misleading and shameful.”

Don’t like the pinkos at Annenberg’s FactCheck.org? Fine. Let’s go to the roster of fact checkers:

Politifact.com: “Obamacare does not literally cut funding from the Medicare budget, but tries to bring down future health care costs in the program….There is reduction in spending to Medicare outlays, but it’s fueled by finding savings in the program, a move that Republicans actually supported in the Ryan budget. Medicare spending still increases in the coming years.”

Los Angeles Times Fact Check: “The president’s healthcare law does reduce future spending on Medicare, but those savings are obtained by reducing federal payments to insurance companies, hospitals and other providers, and do not affect benefits for people in the Medicare program.”

Washington Post Fact Check: “While it is correct that anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding health care for all Americans, it does not affect the Medicare trust fund….Spending does not decrease in Medicare year after year; the reduction is from anticipated levels of spending in future years. Moreover, the “cuts” did not come at the expense of seniors.”

TIME Fact Check: “As for the cuts, they come from eliminating a massive subsidy to private insurers and gradually reducing the rate of growth in payments to some providers….The idea, however, that the Affordable Care Act struck a dangerous blow to Medicare that will change the program in fundamental ways is untrue.”

Beacon describes itself (humbly) as an organization that “empowers Tennesseans to reclaim control of their lives, so that they can freely pursue their version of the American Dream.” Reclaim control of their lives? Or of their lies?

A version of this post appears on the Nashville Scene‘s Pith in the Wind blog.

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