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One of Republicans’ favorite Affordable Care Act talking points is back in fashion.
Back in 2012, we checked the claim that the health care law cuts $700 billion from Medicare more times than we can count. (For a sample, look here, here and here.) It’s popped up again in this year’s Senate race in Kentucky.
Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes recently accused incumbent Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of supporting a $6,000 per year increase in Medicare costs for beneficiaries -- another once-popular claim resurfacing. We’ve rated that False.
The McConnell campaign swiftly retaliated with an ad of its own the next day.
"The truth? Grimes supports Obamacare, which cuts $700 billion from seniors’ Medicare. That’s how Obama and Grimes will pay for Obamacare," the ad says.
For old times’ sake, we decided to look into the claim once again.
The $700 billion 'cuts'
The Affordable Care Act is projected to reduce federal spending on Medicare by about $716 billion between 2013 and 2022, but it does not literally cut funding from the program or reduce its overall budget.
In fact, spending will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. The Affordable Care Act just slows its growth, instituting a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program.
The spending reductions fall largely on insurance companies and hospitals, not seniors. The law made significant reductions to Medicare Advantage, a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. The program, started under President George W. Bush, has cost more than expected -- and more than traditional Medicare.
Hospitals will also be paid less if they have too many readmissions, or if they fail to meet other new benchmarks for patient care.
Also, the $716 billion in reductions is not really being used to "pay for" the law, as McConnell said. At the time the health care law was being finalized, Democrats said it was important to them that the new law not add to federal budget deficits. So the reductions in Medicare spending were counted against the health care law’s new spending over a period of about 10 years.
Some of the new spending is within the Medicare program, such as increasing coverage for prescription drugs and offering preventive care with no out-of-pocket costs.
Does Grimes support the Affordable Care Act?
When the law was enacted in 2010, Grimes was working as an attorney in Lexington, Ky., and played no role in the Affordable Care Act debate. But she hasn’t been able to avoid questions about her stance on the law this election cycle.
Since the start of her campaign, Grimes has said she is troubled by certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act. She has also said the solution is to improve on the law, rather than to throw it out completely. She’s spoken positively of 640,000 Kentuckians who were previously uninsured and will now be able to get insurance.
It’s a bit harder to pin down her position on the Medicare spending reductions specifically.
"I’m troubled with certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act," she said. "But we're here at the State Fair, and if there's three reasons why Kentuckians, especially our seniors, need access to affordable health care coverage, you just have to look over to the right where you see the donut burger, the chili cheese steak and the covered French fries."
We should note that the 2012 Republican budget championed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also trimmed future Medicare spending by almost exactly the same amount as the health care law. (And McConnell voted to consider Ryan’s plan that May.)
An ad out of the McConnell campaign said, "Grimes supports Obamacare, which cuts $700 billion from seniors’ Medicare."
Grimes has been cautiously supportive of the Affordable Care Act, and she certainly does not oppose it as strongly as McConnell does. The law is projected to reduce spending on Medicare by about $700 billion over 10 years, but those reductions in spending are more of a slowed growth rate rather than a budget cut.
We rate this claim Half True.
Team Mitch, "Laughable," July 9, 2014
WHAS-TV, "Grimes distances herself from Obama on key issues," July 18, 2013
WHAS-TV, Grimes interview at Kentucky State Fair, Aug. 20, 2013
Congressional Budget Office, Letter to the Honorable John Boehner providing an estimate for H.R. 6079, the Repeal of Obamacare Act, July 24, 2012
Washington Post, "Romney’s right: Obamacare cuts Medicare by $716 billion. Here’s how," Aug. 14, 2012
Kaiser Health News, "Decoding the $716 Billion in Medicare Reductions," Aug 17, 2014
U.S. Senate, Roll Call votes on H. Con. Res. 112, May 16, 2012
New York Times, "Senate Republicans Engineer Rebuke on Budget," May 16, 2012
PolitiFact, "Connie Mack says Bill Nelson voted to cut $700 billion from Medicare," Oct. 17, 2012
PolitiFact, "Romney says Obama 'cuts' $716B from Medicare to pay for Obamacare," Aug. 15, 2012
PolitiFact, "Bill Young says he opposed $716 billion Medicare cut," Oct. 17, 2012
PolitiFact, "Paul Ryan said President Obama "funneled" $716 billion out of Medicare ‘at the expense of the elderly,’" Aug. 29, 2012
Phone interview with Deborah Kilroe, spokeswoman for the Congressional Budget Office, July 9, 2014
Email interview with Charly Norton, Grimes spokeswoman, July 9, 2014
Email interview with Allison Moore, McConnell spokeswoman, July 9, 2014
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