Constitution Daily

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Top 5 pants-on-fire claims about Medicare

June 20, 2011 by Holly Munson


Let’s just say they don’t call it “Mediscare” for nothing.

A screen grab from a DCCC commercial about Medicare featuring an elderly man mowing the lawn.

Consider this: According to a report released in May, for the first time Americans 45 and older compose a majority (51 percent, that is) of the voting-age population. When you factor in actual election turnout, nearly one out of two voters is 50 or older.

What this means is that Medicare has become a high-stakes issue in discussions about budget cutting, health care reform, and Election 2012. And while the target audience for campaign ads and other political rhetoric has become more mature, the content of said campaigning and rhetoric is anything but. Lest you miss out on the manipulative, truth-stretching, fear-mongering fun, take a look at this sampling of recent misleading claims about Medicare, culled from the rich archives of resources like Politifact and FactCheck.

5. Eliminating fraud is the only answer

The claim: Supporters of the health care reform law have argued that a majority of cost cutting could be resolved by simply rooting out fraud.The fact-check: Although targeting fraud is a worthy goal, it’s no magic bullet. As explained by FactCheck: “The Congressional Budget Office estimated that 73 percent of the total $455 billion in Medicare   savings over 10 years would come from two provisions: reductions in the   scheduled increases in Medicare payments to hospitals and other   providers, and a change in payments to Medicare Advantage plans to bring   them in line with traditional fee-for-service Medicare.”

4. Medicare is going bankrupt

The claim: In a “Face the Nation” interview this April, Rep.  Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated: “The problem is Medicare goes bankrupt in nine years unless we do something to save it. It won’t be there for future generations like my generation.” Similar claims were made in an ad in 2009.The fact-check: Again, as explained by FactCheck: “The trust fund that primarily supports one part (Part A) of Medicare is projected to be exhausted come 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees said it might not actually happen until 2029. That still doesn’t mean the system will be ‘bankrupt,’ though.” In addition, funding for Medicare Parts B and D comes from a separate trust fund.

3. Republicans want to kill Medicare

The claim: A petition on the Web site of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee begins: “The radical GOP has not given up on its drive to kill Medicare. Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to tie the debt ceiling vote to ending Medicare.” Similarly, a TV spot claimed that “Republicans voted to end Medicare” (also: it may be the first time a pink feather boa was used in a political ad).The fact-check: Fact-checking groups agree that the language used by the DSCC and in similar Democratic ads—that the Republicans plan to “kill Medicare”—is too strong. It would be more accurate to say that the GOP plan would end Medicare as we know it, or, even more precise, that their plan would dramatically change the structure of the program and would pass on more expenses to future Medicare recipients. (For a simple explanation of those changes, see this article.) The jury is out on whether McConnell (R-KY) is tying the debt ceiling vote to Medicare—in a “Meet the Press” interview, he declined to explain how the Ryan plan fits into negotiations about the debt.

2. Democrats want to kill Medicare

The claim: A TV ad by the National Republican Campaign Committee premiered last week, stating that “the media” has said the Democrats’ plan would “decimate Medicare.”The fact-check: The ad took the phrase “decimate Medicare” from an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily, which said the Democrats “would decimate Medicare by default” because, according to the editorial, the party had no plan. In addition to the fact that the ad’s quote is taken out of context (as many “media” quotes are in political ads), as the Washington Post Fact Checker explained, “It is disingenuous for Republicans to claim that either a) there is no Democratic plan or b) the Democrats want to steer Medicare on a course toward bankruptcy.”

And finally, how could we not include…

1. Death panels!

The claim: In 2009, Sarah Palin wrote that seniors and the disabled “will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care.” This issue came up as recently as the GOP New Hampshire debate, when Rick Santorum stated this:

What President Obama — let me finish, please — what President Obama has done is he put in, in the Obamacare bill, the Independent Payment Advisory Board. Ladies and gentlemen, seniors, Medicare is going to be cut, starting in 2014, by the federal government, and it’s going to be rationing of care from the top down.

The fact-check: The law specifically says the board “shall not include any recommendation to ration health care.” Rather, the advisory board was, as explained by FactCheck, “created to identify and recommend ways to slow the growth of Medicare spending—which both parties agree needs to be done.”

Grain of truth

Sadly, both ends of the political spectrum are guilty of making shamelessly scurrilous statements about Medicare in attempts to score political points. And although the word scurrilous is really fun to say five times fast, it doesn’t translate into good governance. As one USA Today op-ed pointed out:

[S]ooner or later the destructive, self-serving tit for tat has to stop. Washington’s rising tab for health care is its single biggest fiscal problem. . . . Both [parties] need assurances from each other that they won’t be politically punished for unpopular actions needed to keep health care costs from driving the nation into a Greece-like debt crisis.

Want to sort through the clutter of claims about Medicare? Explore the actual text of the health care reform law here, or check out a user-friendly tutorial explaining reform and Medicare here.


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