Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Attack ad on Obamacare revives talking points old and new

This National Republican Congressional Committee attacks Democrat Alex Sink for supporting the Affordable Care Act.

A new ad from national Republicans in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young features something old, something new, something borrowed, but not much that is true.

The National Republican Congressional Committee unveiled the television ad Wednesday — a 30-second attack on Democrat Alex Sink’s support of President Barack Obama’s signature health law.

"Alex Sink’s loyalty is to them not, Florida. Why else would she continue to support Obamacare?" the ad says, while flashing a picture of Sink, Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "Three hundred thousand Floridians will lose their current health plans, $700 billion cut from medicare for seniors. And now  nonpartisan government analysts say Obamacare will cost our economy up to 2.5 million jobs."

Sink, Florida's Chief Financial Officer from 2007 to 2011, is facing Republican David Jolly, a former lobbyist and aide to Young. The special election is slated for March 11. Sink has said she supports the law and wants to see it improved; Jolly opposes it.

We checked all three claims about the law made by the NRCC in the ad.

The first claim, about 300,000 Floridians losing insurance, is "borrowed" from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who said in October that "300,000 people are going to lose their individual coverage because of Obamacare. Now those people next year, they don’t have health insurance."

We gave it a Mostly False. The NRCC, however, is a little more careful with their wording. They instead say 300,000 Floridians will lose their "current health plans," and they don’t falsely claim that those individuals will be without insurance next year (it’s illegal and there’s a penalty for not having insurance). But there’s still quite a bit of context missing.

The number 300,000 refers to the number of policyholders Florida Blue identified as having plans that did not meet the minimum coverage standards in the Affordable Care Act and would be canceled.

It’s true Florida Blue will phase out those policies (though the Obama administration delayed that requirement by a year). But even then, Florida Blue said it is working with their customers to ensure they can find new policies.

Some of those individuals may have already found new coverage on the federal insurance marketplace, and if they make less than 400 percent of the federal poverty level, they also might have been eligible for a subsidy that makes the coverage cheaper. It’s also possible they’re paying more, but getting more coverage in return.

It’s unclear how many — if any — would no longer have coverage at all.

While the NRCC ad more accurately worded its claim than Rubio’s comments, it paints an incomplete picture. We gave it a Half True.

The second claim — that Obamacare includes a "$700 billion cut from Medicare for seniors" — is an "old" claim that’s been around since 2010.

The Affordable Care Act does take steps to decrease the growth in Medicare outlays. According to the most recent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the reduction in spending is about $716 billion through 2022.

But those savings are supposed to be achieved without cutting services for seniors. About one-third of the savings come from shrinking Medicare Advantage, a subset of the program that is run by private insurers.

Started under President George W. Bush, Medicare Advantage was supposed to inject competition into the market for senior care, but the plans ended up costing more than the public option.

Obamacare also reduces payments for hospitals that don’t meet performance benchmarks, like readmission rates. This is intended to incentivize health facilities to improve efficiency and quality of care.

Moreover, the preferred spending plan of congressional Republicans, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, assumed the same $716 billion in savings.

The ad is right on the numbers, and there is going to be a reduction in Medicare spending, though calling it a "cut" is a misnomer. We gave it a Half True.

Finally, the last statement in the ad is a "new" attack on the health care law. The claim that "Obamacare will cost our economy up to 2.5 million jobs," became a talking point among Republicans earlier this month when the Congressional Budget Office released an update on the law’s economic impact.

The CBO report said Obamacare will result in a "decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024."

Many Republicans reacted as though this supported their claims that Obamacare will be a jobs killer. But there’s a big difference between a decline in full-time equivalent workers and employers cutting jobs as a result of the law.

Positions aren’t going to be eliminated. Instead, the CBO report says that the improved access to insurance on the individual market and the new subsidies to help pay for it will encourage some Americans to not work as much.

Also, it’s not that 2.5 million workers will stop working entirely, but the equivalent of 2.5 million full-time workers. That means there will be some mix of employees scaling back their hours, leaving a second part-time job or exiting the workforce entirely.

Those distinctions are critical to understanding the law’s impact on the labor markets. As a result, we rated the claim Mostly False.