Testing Medicare claims in the Bill Young-Jessica Ehrlich U.S. House race
Pinellas County is a hotbed for "Mediscare" politics.
In Congressional District 13, 22 percent of residents are seniors, and dueling TV ads are echoing the messages of the national parties.
The common theme: Our candidate wants to save Medicare, and the other person wants to hurt it.
An ad from Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young says he fought on behalf of seniors and "opposed $716 billion cut to Medicare."
An ad from his Democratic challenger, attorney Jessica Ehrlich, says Young voted "twice for the (Paul) Ryan budget that ends the current Medicare system."
Both sides agree Medicare spending is growing too fast and needs to be slowed. But both distort the other's plan for doing it.
"It's an emotional issue," said Gail Wilensky, who oversaw Medicare under President George H.W. Bush and is a senior fellow at the international health foundation Project HOPE. "If there's no truth to either side, it would be an easy story."
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Ehrlich's ad emphasizes just how long Young, 81, has been in Washington. "Before the Tampa Bay Bucs, Nixon was president, disco was on the rise, and Bill Young was in Congress," it says.
Enter Ehrlich, 38: "Bill Young is a nice man, but after 42 years in Congress he's lost touch. Why else would he vote twice for the Ryan budget that ends the current Medicare system? Seniors pay thousands more each year, and the wealthy get more tax cuts."
Without question, the budget blueprint of Mitt Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would substantially change Medicare. Ryan would leave Medicare in its current form for people 55 and older. Most attacks from Democrats, including Ehrlich's, omit this important detail.
It's a different story for future beneficiaries, who would receive a voucherlike government subsidy to buy their own plans.
"That is a completely different system than the one that we currently have," Ehrlich said in an interview.
Ryan's original plan from 2011 privatized Medicare completely. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost seniors $6,400 in extra health care costs. Ryan responded to criticism about that and included a traditional Medicare plan in his most recent plan.
"It's really hard to say traditional Medicare is being ended as we know it, except in the sense that it is no longer going to be an open-ended entitlement," Wilensky said, "and Republicans and Democrats have effectively ended that."
So, yes, Young voted for Ryan's previous budget proposals in 2011 and 2012. The most recent plan reshapes how Medicare would work, but seniors would still receive government assistance to buy health insurance — including a traditional Medicare plan.
We rate her claim Half True.
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In Young's senior-centric ad, a cast of older people and former Gov. Jeb Bush praise Young as the champion for Florida seniors in Congress. "Young opposed $716 billion cut to Medicare," bold text says.
Below that text is a citation for the 2010 vote on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the national health care law that Young voted against.
Does that vote mean Young also rejected "the $716 billion cut"?
This attack line is a viral one in the political world, used by Mitt Romney against President Barack Obama and Rep. Connie Mack IV against Sen. Bill Nelson.
Obama did not propose a specific reduction of Medicare's budget, so it's not a "cut" in the traditional sense. Rather, the law made changes to slow the growth of Medicare costs. These changes primarily affected insurance companies and hospitals — not beneficiaries.
The government, for example, will pay hospitals less if they have too many readmissions or fail to meet new benchmarks for care. It will also reduce payments to insurers that offer Medicare Advantage. Those plans have cost the government more than traditional Medicare; the health law curtails the extra payments.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined in 2011 that the health care law would reduce Medicare outlays by $507 billion between 2012 and 2021. In more recent estimate released this year, the CBO looked at the years 2013 to 2022 and found reductions of $716 billion.
It's worth pointing out Young could not have known he was specifically voting against $716 billion in Medicare "cuts," as that had yet not been tabulated.
For leaving out all those details, we rate Young's claim Half True as well.