PoliGraph: Cravaack Medicare claim misses on numbers

Rep. Chip Cravaack is worried about Medicare.

In a press release posted on his website, the 8th Congressional District Republican defended his support for a plan aimed at making changes to the way the government funds health care coverage for the elderly. Democrats oppose the plan because they say it would effectively end Medicare.

To make his point, Cravaack writes that the number of Medicare beneficiaries is rising, but the number of workers per beneficiary is declining.

In 1965, when Medicare was created “8.6 working taxpayers supported each Medicare recipient,” Cravaack wrote. “In fact, by 2003, around four workers supported each recipient, and by 2010, there were less than three workers per retiree.”

Cravaack’s statement exaggerates the trend.

The Evidence

Medicare Part A, which pays for inpatient hospital services, nursing home and hospice care, and in-home care, is financed mostly through payroll taxes, so its financial stability is directly related to the number of people working.

More elderly people are living longer and Americans are having fewer children. That means Medicare Part A has more enrollees than ever before, but fewer workers to support them financially. The trend is expected to continue as more baby boomers enroll in Medicare.

But Cravaack’s numbers are only partially correct. In 1966, the year after Medicare was put into place, 4.5 workers supported every Medicare beneficiary, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In subsequent years, the ratio generally got smaller. In 2003, 3.9 workers supported every Medicare beneficiary. In 2010, that number was down to 3.4 workers.

The downward trend is expected to continue, according to CMS. By 2030, roughly 80 million seniors are expected to be enrolled in Medicare, and there will be only 2.3 workers to support each beneficiary.

The Verdict

The first part of Cravaack’s statement is false.

Cravaack’s spokesman said 8.6 workers was a typo and the press release should have said 4.6 workers, which would have been more accurate. After being alerted by PoliGraph, his campaign changed its website, and so did the organization that Cravaack initially got his information from.

The second part of his statement leans toward accurate, though he’s off somewhat on the number of workers supporting each beneficiary in 2010. Cravaack’s underlying argument that there are fewer workers to support an aging population, a trend that could create future financial difficulties for Medicare, is correct.

For getting the first part of his statement false and the second part nearly right, Cravaack earns a True/False for this claim.

SOURCES

2010 Annual Report of the Boards of Trustees of the Federal Hospital Insurance and Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Funds, accessed April 10, 2012

Medicare obligations must be protected and preserved, by Rep. Chip Cravaack, April 10, 2012

Kaiser Family Foundation, Historical and Projected Number of Medicare Beneficiaries and Number of Workers Per Beneficiary, accessed April 10, 2012

The Social Security Administration, What is Medicare, accessed April 10, 2012

Reasons for the Changes in Medicare Spending over Time, accessed April 10, 2012

Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, How is Medicare Funded?, accessed April 10, 2012

Historical Data, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, April 11, 2012

Historical Data, Kaiser Family Foundation, April 11, 2012

Phone interview, Michael Bars, spokesman, Rep. Chip Cravaack, April 11, 2012

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