Medicare, typically considered the business of the federal government, has found its way into state Legislature campaigns.
The Minnesota DFL is making it the subject of a mailer targeting Ben Wiener, the Republican running for House District 11B which includes part of Isanti, Kanabec and Pine Counties.
“Ben Wiener will be another vote against Medicare,” the DFL flier states. “In recent years, Republican politicians have repeatedly voted to cut Medicare. And now Ben Wiener wants to join them.”
The ad goes on to say that Wiener “will be just another Republican vote against closing the Medicare prescription drug donut hole” and that Wiener will “join Republicans in the Legislature who voted to let state politicians take over and run Medicare. His plan would endanger the health benefits of 650,000 Minnesota seniors on Medicare.”
Wiener can’t be another vote against Medicare because the state Legislature has no control over the program, as the ad implies.
The flier states that Wiener “will be just another Republican vote against closing the Medicare prescription drug donut hole.” The DFL is referring to a kink in the Medicare Part D program, which covers drug benefits for seniors. Once Medicare beneficiaries reach a certain coverage threshold, they have to pay for their prescriptions until they reach the catastrophic coverage threshold.
In other words, they fall into the donut hole.
To support this part of their claim, the DFL cites the Omnibus Health and Human Services Finance Bill, which was passed by both chambers and was promptly vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May of 2011.
The DFL points out that the bill includes a provision that would have prevented state dollars from being used to implement the new health care law, which includes an effort to fix Medicare Part D.
But as Juliette Cubanski, a Medicare expert with the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation explained, even if such a law were put on the books, nothing would change how Medicare Part D affects Minnesota seniors because efforts to fix the donut hole are being implemented by the federal government.
The flier also claims that Wiener wants to “join Republicans in the Legislature who voted to let state politicians take over and run Medicare.”
Here, the DFL is on slightly stronger footing. This session, the Legislature approved – and Dayton vetoed – legislation that would have affectively put states in charge of all health care programs, including Medicare.
Still, Congress would have had to approve the change, and the legislation states as much. Further, the bill makes no mention of how the state would treat Medicare, so it’s impossible to say whether seniors would have lost their benefits as the mailer states.
The DFL also points out that many Republican legislators supported a legal effort to overturn the new health care law. But it’s misleading to link their amicus brief to Wiener because he was not in the Legislature at the time.
In fact, Wiener hasn’t made any public statements about Medicare or federal entitlement programs in general. He says that’s because “it’s a federal entitlement program and not a state issue.”
Aside from using tenuous evidence to support the specifics, the DFL flier is fundamentally misleading.
It implies that the state Legislature has control over how Medicare is administered, and Wiener would be involved in efforts to dismantle the program.
But any changes to Medicare must be made at the federal level. For instance, the Legislature couldn’t make changes to Medicare Part D even if it wanted to.
The DFL bases its claims on the passage of two bills that have little to do with Medicare, or would require the approval of Congress for the state to act.
But even so, the ad implies that Wiener somehow has a plan to cut Medicare (he does not) and that the Minnesota Legislature has jurisdiction over the program in the first place (it does not).
This mailer jumbles so many misleading and incorrect claims this PoliGraph test judges it false.
Minnesota Legislature, S.F. No. 760 – Omnibus Health and Human Services Finance Bill (The Conference Committee Report), May 20, 2011
Minnesota Senate, SF 1933, Health Care Compact, Apr 27, 2012
The Kaiser Family Foundation, Key Changes to the Medicare Part D Drug Benefit Coverage Gap, March 2012
State Representative Doug Wardlow, Minnesota and North Carolina Legislators File Amicus Brief Challenging the Constitutionality of Obamacare, May 12, 2011
PolitiFact Tennessee, Democrats say Republican-backed legislation “would eliminate Medicare’s guaranteed benefit for 800,000 Tennessee seniors and force them into TennCare,” by Tom Humphrey, September 7th, 2012
Health Care Compact, Frequently Asked Questions: What is an interstate compact?, accessed Oct. 16, 2012
Email exchange, Carlie Waible, DFL spokesperson, Oct. 16, 2012
Email exchange, Chris Lee, Kaiser Family Foundation, Oct. 17, 2012
Phone interview, Ben Wiener, Oct. 17, 2012