"$700 billion was robbed (from Medicare) to pay for Obamacare."

Mike Huckabee on Thursday, August 6th, 2015 in the first Republican debate

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

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

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.