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By Julie Kliegman November 19, 2013

Sen. Mark Pryor 'cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare,' says Rep. Tom Cotton

So far, PolitiFact has heard some familiar attacks in the 2014 midterm election campaign rhetoric. The latest comes from the Arkansas Senate race, where incumbent Mark Pryor, a Democrat, faces U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, a Republican.

Recently, they traded jabs over Medicare funding.

"Some politicians like Tom Cotton voted to cut Social Security, turn Medicare into a voucher system and raise the age of eligibility to 70," Pryor’s ad said. "Pryor cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare," Cotton’s ad shot back.

We’ve addressed Pryor’s claim in a separate fact-check. Here, we’ll focus on Cotton’s assertion that the Affordable Care Act strips Medicare funding. Cotton’s office didn’t respond to our requests for comment, but we did hear from Pryor’s folks.

We’re certainly no stranger to different versions of this claim. There is a connection between the Affordable Care Act and cuts to Medicare funding.

Both parties have recognized a need to rein in Medicare costs, which were growing at an annual rate of 6.8 percent in 2010, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"Without reform, the nation’s already excessive health care spending would have reached unsustainable levels within the next few decades," the 2010 CMS report read.

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With the enactment of the health care law, Medicare’s growth was projected to slow to 5.3 percent, according to the same CMS report. Over time, CMS predicts this will result in a 10-year savings of more than $700 billion.

The savings will come from reductions to Medicare Advantage, which represents a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. In additions, hospitals will be paid less if they don’t meet certain benchmarks for patient care. The law’s intent was to save money by making the system more efficient and without making reductions in benefits.

So Obamacare doesn’t "cut" Medicare funding that already exists. Rather, it controls future spending, which politicians on both sides of the aisle called for.   

The cost control "is part of what Congress does to try to manage the insanely complex and expensive Medicare system," said Jay Wolfson, a public health professor at the University of South Florida. "It is not new, nor is it partisan."

When Mark Pryor voted with the Senate to pass Obamacare in 2009, he wasn’t voting to cut Medicare. He was voting to slow its growth.

The goal is to reallocate some of the money saved toward Obamacare’s goal of covering the currently uninsured, said Timothy Jost, a Washington and Lee University health policy law professor. So the savings are designed to offset costs in Obamacare so that the law doesn’t increase the national deficit.

Our ruling

Cotton’s ad claimed that "Pryor cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare." In reality, the Affordable Care Act calls for a slowed growth of Medicare funding, not a slash to current funds. The savings from this approach will be used to offset Obamacare costs. Because the ad doesn’t make this clear, we rate Cotton’s claim Half True.

Our Sources

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, "Affordable Care Act update: Implementing Medicare cost savings," accessed Nov. 19, 2013

Email interview with Erik Dorey, Pryor for Senate campaign spokesman

Email interview with Jay Wolfson, University of South Florida public health and medicine professor, Nov. 17, 2013

New York Times, "Senate vote 396 -- passes health care bill," Dec. 24, 2009

Phone interview with Timothy Jost, Washington and Lee health policy law professor, Nov. 18, 2013

PolitiFact, "Medicare ‘cuts’ in the health care law will hurt seniors, says 60 Plus Association," Sept. 20, 2010

PolitiFact, "Paul Ryan said President Obama ‘funneled’ $716 billion out of Medicare ‘at the expense of the elderly,’ " Aug. 29, 2012

PolitiFact, "Romney says Obama ‘cuts’ $716B from Medicare to pay for Obamacare," Aug. 20, 2012

YouTube, "Cotton for Senate: Seen this ad," Nov. 13, 2013

YouTube, "Seventy," Nov. 13, 2013

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More by Julie Kliegman

Sen. Mark Pryor 'cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare,' says Rep. Tom Cotton

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