PoliGraph: GOP claim on Obama Medicare cuts misleads

By putting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on the Republican presidential ticket, Mitt Romney has made it clear that fiscal policy will be at the center of his campaign.

That means voters will be hearing a lot about Ryan’s budget plan that would make dramatic changes to how some programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, are structured and administered.

During an interview with ABC’s This Week host George Stephanopoulos, former Minnesota Gov. and Romney surrogate Tim Pawlenty defended Ryan’s budget plan. And he pointed out that President Obama’s signature health care law makes big cuts to Medicare.

“There’s only one candidate in this race who’s actually cut Medicare and signed such a thing into law, and that’s President Obama: $700 billion cut over the next 10 years,” Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty’s claim, which had been repeated by many other Republicans in recent days, is misleading.

The Evidence

PoliGraph and other fact-checking organizations have checked similar claims before. Since the health care law was put on the books, Republicans have frequently accused Obama of making a $500 billion cut to Medicare.

But the claim deserves some clarity. The law doesn’t cut Medicare benefits.

Rather, the law slows the future growth of the program by reducing payments to Medicare Advantage, a private insurance alternative to the traditional Medicare program, and ties reimbursement to performance. Additionally, the law slows future growth in payments to hospitals and other providers, according to a joint reporting project by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Kaiser Health News.

The savings are used to help pay for other parts of the health law.

Up until recently, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the law would save about $500 billion over 10 years. But in July, the CBO increased its savings estimate to more than $700 billion over 10 years.

Finally, there’s an important twist buried in all the rhetoric: Ryan’s budget overturns Obama’s health care law, but it preserves the Medicare savings.

The Verdict

Pawlenty’s claim is misleading for two reasons: he doesn’t make clear that the health care law makes no cuts to benefits, and it suggests that Obama is the only person in the race who wants to slow the program’s growth.

In fact, Ryan’s budget plan assumes the same Medicare savings as Obama’s health care law.


ABC’s This Week, Transcript: Tim Pawlenty and David Axelrod, Aug. 12, 2012

The Congressional Budget Office, Letter to House Speaker John Boehner on cost of repealing health care law, July 24, 2012

The Washington Post, Health care law fact check: Medicaid, health spending, and abortion myths and missteps, by N.C. Aizenman and Julie Appleby, Oct. 18, 2010

Minnesota Public Radio News, PoliGraph: Republican ad aimed at Peterson is a stretch, by Catharine Richert, March 30, 2012

AP, Ryan’s Medicare plan would be tricky to pull off, by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldiva, Aug. 13, 2012

The Boston Globe, The Romney-Ryan $700B Disagreement, by John McDonough August 12, 2012

Slate, Who’s Slashing Medicare?: Obamacare would cut the program by $700 billion–but so would Ryan’s budget plan, By David Weigel, Aug. 13, 2012

The Washington Post, Romney’s right: Obamacare cuts Medicare by $716 billion. Here’s how, by Sarah Kliff, August 14, 2012

E-mail exchange, Sara Imhof, The Concord Coalition, Aug. 13, 2012

  • Jim

    For years, Dems have pounded the GOP for trying to cut the growth rates on programs? Why the change of heart now? If this is the new normal, how about an across the board cut, I mean adj to growth, for all programs, why burden only seniors?

  • Jamie

    This is not just misleading, it’s a lie! And it’s an extra-bad lie because of what Ryan’s budget plan would do. It’s slimy!

  • Chad Sawyer

    Another misleading Poligraph. “[Obamacare] slows future growth in payments to hospitals and other providers…” THIS IS A CUT. When Obama cut Medicare payments to providers, he ensured a REDUCTION IN SERVICES. The services provided by doctors who are reimbursed through Medicare are the benefit to seniors. Thus, he cut benefits to current Medicare recipients.

    Providers have said they will see fewer Medicare patients, which ensures a reduction in quality of services offered along with the reduction in actual services offered. ANOTHER CUT.

    Additionally, Obama ended the Medicare Advantage, a voucher-like system whereby seniors purchase their own insurance. Thus, seniors who are current Medicare recipients will be forced to go through the Medicaid system for care. ANOTHER CUT.

    In sum, Obama reduced the amount of money that will be spent on services to Medicare recipients while expanding the pool of recipients. THAT IS A CUT.

    Unlike Ryan, who also proposes to slow the growth of Medicare spending by fixing the contribution to future Medicaid recipients and who reinvests the savings toward keeping the program solvent, Obama shuffled the money to pay for another uncontrollably expensive federal entitlement program.

    So, no, the claim that Obama cut $700 billion from Medicare is not misleading. Also, there is little actual equivalency between Obama’s plan and Ryan’s plan as the end of this editorial suggests.

  • Duke Powell

    Chad Sawyer’s comments above are correct and I’d like to add to them.

    Poligraph claims Pawlenty was misleading in his assertions because he neglected to mention a couple of items that were inconvenient to his argument. The writer of this article is the one that’s guilty of that charge.

    1. “(Pawlenty) doesn’t make clear that the health care law makes no cuts to benefits.” This is misleading. The fact is that ObamaCare increases benefits for seniors while spending $700 billion dollars less over the next 10 years. There is no free lunch. Access, quality of care and cost to the enrollee will suffer.

    2. “Ryan’s budget plan assumes the same Medicare savings as Obama’s health care law.” This is simply comparing apples to oranges. ObamaCare overhauls the entire health care system and robs from Medicare to help pay for those who are now uninsured. Ryan’s premium support plan would stem the unsustainable growth of the Medicare program by substituting markets for the present fee-for-service program.

    The savings calculated by David Cutler, health adviser to the White House, found that Ryan’s proposal would result in private plans offering the full package of benefits for 9 percent less than traditional Medicare.

    3. Poligraph further errs by not fully explaining how ObamaCare intends to “save” Medicare. The first way is to gut Medicare Advantage and force 10 million seniors out their current insurance plan.

    Secondly, ObamaCare will cut reimbursements to health care providers. If they think this will work, just look at the Medicaid experience. Reduced reimbursement to that program has harmed access for the poor. Fewer and fewer doctors are consenting to see Medicaid patients due to the poor payment.

    Realistically, however, don’t expect Congress to enact the provider cuts that ObamaCare demands in future years.

    And lastly, we come to the 15 member Independent Payment Advisory Board. This board is mandated to cut Medicare expenditures. They have been given a broad set of policy tools to do so. It’s not clear what they will cut, but once they decide what to do, it will take a two-thirds vote of Congress to override their decisions.