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Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee fields a question during the first Republican presidential debate. (AP) Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee fields a question during the first Republican presidential debate. (AP)

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee fields a question during the first Republican presidential debate. (AP)

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu August 7, 2015

Obamacare 'robbed' Medicare of $700B, says Huckabee

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee accused "illegals, prostitutes, pimps, (and) drug dealers" of freeloading off the Social Security system during the Aug. 6 GOP primary debate.

Huckabee's provocative comment concluded a wonkish back-and-forth between him and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie about entitlement reform. Christie defended his plan to raise the retirement age and change benefits for Social Security and Medicare, but Huckabee stressed that Uncle Sam was to blame.

"If Congress wants to mess with the retirement program, why don't we let them start by changing their retirement program, and not have one, instead of talking about getting rid of Social Security and Medicare that was robbed $700 billion to pay for Obamacare?" Huckabee said.

This claim -- that the Affordable Care Act is funded by plundering the health care program of seniors -- is an old Republican talking point, dating back to the 2010 midterm elections. We’ve checked out many versions of this claim, which contains some truth but is misleading.

Obamacare doesn’t literally "rob" Medicare. But the Affordable Care Act does include provisions that reduce future increases in Medicare spending. In other words, the law slows down the rising costs of Medicare.

It’s also important to note that the savings come at the expense of insurers and hospitals, not beneficiaries. (The $700 billion figure is also old, from a 2012 report by the Congressional Budget Office. It’s now updated to about $800 billion.)

Under President George W. Bush, private insurers began to run a subset of Medicare plans with the idea that more competition produced lower costs. However, those plans grew to cost more than traditional Medicare, so the Affordable Care Act pared down the payments to private insurers.

Hospitals would also find their checks docked when they failed to to meet benchmarks for patient care.

On the flip side, the Affordable Care Act also funds illness prevention benefits, expands preventive care benefits, and provides $48 billion for prescription coverage.

It’s possible that some beneficiaries could experience additional costs, reductions in service, or fewer hospitals that accept Medicare.

"While ‘robbed’ is a bit loaded, the idea that Medicare beneficiaries are getting less generous benefits in order that the ACA can offer health benefits to younger people isn’t outrageous," said Andrew Biggs, resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But that’s a potential impact and a less direct effect of Obamacare than the claim suggests. The prior critiques of the claim "remain relevant," the head of Medicare and Medicaid under George H.W. Bush told PolitiFact in 2014.

Our ruling

Huckabee said, "$700 billion was robbed (from Medicare) to fund Obamacare."

It’s an old claim and an old figure. The law does reduce Medicare spending, but not in the way Huckabee suggests. The Affordable Care Act aims to cut future Medicare costs by reducing payments to private insurers and hospitals, not beneficiaries, though this could indirectly squeeze beneficiaries.

The claim is partially accurate but leaves out important context. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Email interview with Andrew Biggs, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Aug. 6, 2015

PolitiFact, "The health care law raises taxes and cuts Medicare, says Scott Brown," Nov. 3, 2013.

PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott says Medicare rate cuts will affect seniors’ ability to keep their doctors, hospital and prevention services," March 3, 2014.

PolitiFact Florida, "Bill Young says he opposed $716 billion Medicare cut," Oct. 30, 2012.

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Thompson says Baldwin voted to ‘gut’ Medicare," Oct. 21, 2012.

PolitiFact, "James Capretta says Obamacare is a ‘massive income redistribution,’" Dec. 5, 2013.

PolitiFact, "Obama claims Medicare benefits will not be cut under the health care bill," Aug. 14, 2009.

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

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

PolitiFact Virginia, "American Crossroads says Tim Kaine urged $500 billion in Medicare cuts,"June 20, 2012.

PolitiFact, "Will Obamacare hurt Medicare Advantage?" Aug. 19, 2013.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Gillespie says Obamacare "cuts seniors' Medicare," Sept. 8, 2014, "Misleading onslaught by 60 Plus," Sept. 17, 2010.

Congressional Budget Office, Letter to John Boehner, July 24, 2012

Congressional Budget Office, Budgetary and Economic Effects of Repealing the Affordable Care Act, June 2015

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Obamacare 'robbed' Medicare of $700B, says Huckabee

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