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Astronaut Mark Kelly speaks during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP/Andrew Harnik) Astronaut Mark Kelly speaks during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Astronaut Mark Kelly speaks during a rally for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 30, 2016. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde September 14, 2020

Fact-checking Mark Kelly on Martha McSally’s stance on Medicare

If Your Time is short

  • McSally has a mixed voting record on a transition of Medicare into a premium support or voucher program.

  • Experts have said proposals to convert Medicare to a voucher system could lead to higher costs for seniors already enrolled in Medicare. 

  • McSally in 2012 stated support for potentially raising the retirement age. Her campaign would not say where she stood on that issue in 2020.

As Arizonans contemplate who should represent them in the U.S. Senate, Democratic contender Mark Kelly claimed Republican Sen. Martha McSally isn’t really looking out for seniors.

In a Sept. 2 post on his campaign website, Kelly said McSally wouldn’t protect Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for people over 65.

"And despite saying she would protect seniors, McSally supported a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and ‘shift costs’ onto seniors, according to the AARP," Kelly’s website said, referring to the advocacy group for seniors. "McSally even supported raising the retirement age."

Is Kelly right about McSally’s record on Medicare, vouchers and raising the retirement age?

‘Supported a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program’

Kelly’s campaign pointed to October 2017 reporting from the Arizona Daily Star that said McSally voted in favor of a Republican budget plan for fiscal year 2018 that "would gradually change Medicare to a voucher program." (McSally served in the House at the time.)

A Republican summary of that proposal said it would save and strengthen Medicare "by moving to a premium support system," lowering costs for beneficiaries and the government through increased competition, and maintaining the option for traditional Medicare.

Under a premium-support or voucher system, beneficiaries would receive a payment to buy private insurance, or a traditional fee-for-service Medicare plan. A goal of switching over to the voucher approach is to slow the growth in Medicare spending. AARP in 2017 argued that such a switch could shift more costs to beneficiaries over time.

Experts at the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a March 2017 blog post that proposals to convert Medicare to a voucher system could lead to higher Medicare premiums and cost-sharing for seniors already enrolled in the program. It may be the case that not all seniors would see costs go up, but some would, Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told PolitiFact.

Featured Fact-check

Although McSally endorsed a move to a premium-support or voucher system in 2017, she voted against her party in 2015, when she supported a motion that instructed House conferees to prevent Medicare from becoming a voucher program, among other things. McSally was one of only three Republicans who supported the motion offered by then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland.

McSally embraced a more conservative voice during a 2018 Senate primary race. Before that she was generally perceived as a moderate Republican.

Motions to instruct conferees and concurrent resolutions are not binding, so they do not directly stop or allow changes to Medicare or other matters. Budget resolutions lay out a plan.

‘Supported raising the retirement age’

When she first ran for Congress in 2012, the Green Valley News asked McSally if Social Security was sustainable and whether she supported changes such as raising the retirement age.

McSally said Social Security was unsustainable and needed measures to strengthen it for future generations. "For younger workers, we need to consider approaches such as gradually increasing the retirement age and allowing them to invest a portion of their Social Security payments in ways that will allow them to maximize their returns," McSally said.

We asked McSally’s campaign about her position in 2020, but did not hear back.

Our ruling

Kelly said McSally "supported a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and ‘shift costs’ onto seniors" and "even supported raising the retirement age."

McSally has a mixed voting record regarding a transition of Medicare into a premium support or voucher program. Kaiser Family Foundation experts in 2017 said proposals to convert Medicare to a voucher system could lead to higher costs for seniors already enrolled in Medicare. McSally in 2012 stated support for potentially raising the retirement age. Her campaign did not say where she stood on that issue in 2020.

Kelly’s claim is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources

Email interview, Jacob Peters, spokesperson for Mark Kelly’s campaign, Sept. 9, 2020

Email interview, Martha McSally’s press office, Sept. 10, 2020

Mark Kelly campaign website, Sept. 2, 2020 post

Green Valley News questionnaire, archived page, April 4, 2012

Congress.gov, S.Con.Res.11 - An original concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2016 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2017 through 2025.

House Clerk roll call 153, April 14, 2015; Roll Call 557 H. Con. Res. 71, Oct. 5, 2017

Tucson.com, How Arizona members of Congress voted, Oct. 6, 2017, updated Oct. 7, 2017

AARP.org, Medicare on Chopping Block in House Budget, Oct. 6, 2017

Healthaffairs.org, Medicare Premium Support Proposals Could Increase Costs for Today’s Seniors, Despite Assurances, March 9, 2017

Kaiser Family Foundation, Health Affairs Blog: Medicare Premium Support Proposals Could Increase Costs for Today’s Seniors, Despite Assurances, March 9, 2017; Turning Medicare Into a Premium Support System: Frequently Asked Questions, July 19, 2016

Internet Archive - Wayback Machine, House FY 2018 Budget summary

Phone interview, Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Sept. 14, 2020

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Fact-checking Mark Kelly on Martha McSally’s stance on Medicare

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