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It’s a big number: $716 billion.
And it has become one of the most ubiquitous -- and contested -- figures tossed around in this presidential campaign as debate swirls over the future of Medicare, the federal health
care program for seniors.
Democrats say the $716 billion represents anticipated savings in Medicare spending over the next decade, thanks to President Obama’s new health care law which, among other things, reduces Medicare reimbursements to hospitals and other providers.
Republicans from Mitt Romney on down say the $716 billion is what President Obama cut from the Medicare trust fund to pay for other reforms in the President’s Affordable Care Act.
That’s where Rhode Island Republican Michael Riley, hoping to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. James Langevin in Rhode Island’s 2nd District, comes in. (Langevin voted for the health care overhaul.)
Riley, who runs an investment advisory business, grabbed hold of some national GOP talking points when he posted this on his Facebook page this month: "President Obama is attacking Paul Ryan on Medicare even though it is his administration with the help of Jim Langevin who cut 716 Billion from Medicare."
PolitiFact National has on two previous occasions analyzed similar statements made by Romney and ruled them Half True or Mostly False depending on the wording of the claim. Other fact-checking organizations have come to similar conclusions. Here’s why.
Whether the verb used is "cut" or "robbed" -- Republicans have used both -- the statement would suggest to most people that Medicare benefits are in play.
While Obama indeed directed $716 billion away from future Medicare spending, the money will be used primarily to provide coverage for the uninsured under the Affordable Care Act. Democrats insist the move does not translate into reductions in benefits for millions of the elderly.
What’s being cut, they argue, is the rate of Medicare growth by, among other steps, reducing the reimbursements paid to health care providers and insurers. (Those providers and insurers went along with the lower reimbursement idea when the health care overhaul was being discussed in exchange for the likelihood of more customers under the law’s mandatory insurance provision.)
Democrats also point out that Romney’s vice presidential nominee, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, assumes the same savings in his budget proposals.
But Republicans say Democrats are missing a critical point: if providers and insurers face lower reimbursements for Medicare patients, they might start refusing to participate in Medicare. And that would limit the elderly’s access to Medicare.
A recent report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, raised that same point: "The question is whether reductions in payments to health care providers will impair either access to health care services or the quality of those services. While there are some indications that providers are beginning to pull back from the program and that waiting periods for care may be increasing in some jurisdictions, it is too early to know for sure."
The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that estimates the impact of proposed laws, has said that if Congress overturns the Affordable Care Act now, spending for Medicare would increase about $716 billion between next year and 2022.
In an interview, Riley wouldn’t say whether he was talking about benefits being curtailed when he said President Obama "cut" Medicare by $716 billion.
"My meaning is it’s money that would [otherwise] go into Medicare," which he described as a pool of money. "The truth is it’s too early to know."
Congressional candidate Michael Riley says that with the help of U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, President Obama "cut $716 billion from Medicare."
Mr. Obama did direct $716 billion away from future Medicare spending as part of his health care reform law.
But calling it a cut leaves the impression that the $716 billion is being taken from money already allocated. That’s not the case.
The debate, however, continues over whether benefits are in jeopardy. In the meantime, the Congressional Budget Office says the move eases the burden of Medicare’s current deficit.
Because the statement is "partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context," we rate it Half True.
(Get updates from PolitiFact Rhode Island on Twitter: @politifactri. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)
Interview, Michael Riley, Aug. 27, 2012
Riley for Congress Facebook page, Aug. 16, 2012, accessed Aug. 24, 2012
PolitiFact.com, "Mitt Romney said Obama robbed Medicare of more than $700 billion," Aug. 15, 2012, accessed Aug. 23, 2012
PolitiFact.com, "Under the president’s plan he cuts Medicare by $716 billion. . . to pay for Obamacare," Aug. 20, 2012, accessed, Aug. 23, 2012
Congressional Budget Office, "Impact of Repeal of Affordable Care Act," July 24, 2012 letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, accessed Aug. 27, 2012
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