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FactCheck.org’s False Medicare Claim

By Igor Volsky  

"FactCheck.org’s False Medicare Claim"

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Fact Check.org accuses the Center for American Progress Action Fund of twisting the facts about McCain’s proposal to cut Medicare benefits. Not true.

Summary

In a purported “fact check,” FactCheck.org is making the bogus claim that the Center for American Progress Action Fund is “twisting facts to scare seniors” about McCain’s proposal to cut $1.3 trillion from Medicare and Medicaid to finance his tax care health credits.

These claims are false and are based on the denials of McCain senior policy adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who “states unequivocally that no benefit cuts are envisioned.” Since McCain and his aides have promised to reduce Medicare and Medicaid spending to pay for their health care plan, have not proposed a realistic cost-containment proposal, and have refused to offer specific budget numbers and estimates, CAPAF concluded that McCain could only make up the budget shortfall by cutting benefits. Given the schizophrenic nature of McCain’s health care proposal, we’re skeptical that McCain can deliver the savings he promises, and see no basis for Fact Check to accuse CAPAF of “scaring seniors.”

Analysis

FactCheck.org began misrepresenting McCain’s health care plan in a post released on September 22, 2008 and followed up on their efforts in another post last week. In both cases, the organization relies on the denials of the McCain campaign and fails to conduct a through analysis of the implications of McCain’s proposals.

In its latest post, FactCheck.org claimed that McCain has never proposed to cut Medicare or Medicaid benefits, and argued that CAPAF’s analysis twisted McCain’s financing-mechanism by claiming that he would be forced to make “cuts in benefits, eligibility, or both.”

But in fact, FactCheck.org’s claim is based on a false reading of McCain’s proposed financing mechanism, amplified by McCain aides’ own one-sided, partisan denial that piles McCain’s confusion about his health care plan atop misinterpretation.

Twisting Facts to Fool Seniors

Here’s how FactCheck.org cooked up its bogus claim.

CAPAF’s analysis was based on the McCain campaign’s repeated assertions that its health care plan is budget neutral. During the vice presidential debate, for instance, Gov. Sarah Palin explained McCain’s health care plan as “budget neutral. That doesn’t cost the government anything…But a $5,000 health care credit through our income tax that’s budget neutral.”

However, McCain’s plan to tax health benefits would fall $1.3 trillion short of paying for his plan. According to the Wall Street Journal, McCain plans to fill this gap with Medicare and Medicaid savings.

In short, after McCain revealed that he would finance his budget-neutral health care proposal by cutting Medicare/Medicaid (and not exposing health care benefits to income and payroll taxes, as the campaign has previously implied), CAPAF tried to explain the consequences of McCain’s newfound funding mechanism. As it turns out, McCain’s reduction does not keep up with medical inflation and enrollment rates and would require McCain to cut benefits, eligibility or both.

For instance, in 2013, McCain promises to cut $68 billion from Medicare, $14 billion more than the Congressional Budget Office says will be paid to doctors from the Medicare physician free schedule and more than Medicare will collect for all Part B Premiums. Thus, CAPAF concluded that McCain’s suggestion that Medicare’s waste and inefficiency exceeds what the program will pay doctors was wholly inaccurate.

Nevertheless, a so-called non-partisan “fact checking organization” quickly twisted CAPAF’s analysis into a post with a headline stating that CAPAF’s analysis was wrong. The tone of the piece smeared CAPAF analysts as partisan hacks, while failing to question McCain’s numbers or asking the McCain campaign for its own budget estimates. Rather, the author bent over backwards to give the McCain campaign the benefit of the doubt.

Why Should We Believe McCain?

For the record, the McCain campaign said, after its health care plan was released, that it did plan to “reduce the growth in Medicare spending.” McCain has a long record of voting to cut Medicare and just this weekend, McCain advisers said the senator would force Congress to “control the growth” of Medicare spending.

Interestingly, FactCheck.org trusts the statements of a campaign whose health care plan changes on odd calender days:

- The McCain campaign claimed it would finance its plan by exposing health benefits to income and payroll taxes … After analysts argued that doing so would result in a massive tax increase on the middle class, the campaign flipped and said McCain would finance the plan by weeding out $1.3 trillion worth of waste from Medicare and Medicaid over 10 years.

- McCain has said that he would not raise taxes … during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, McCain admitted that his health care plan would increase taxes on individuals with “Cadillac health care” … Despite McCain’s admission, Gov. Sarah Palin continues to insist that McCain’s plan would not raise taxes on anyone.

- On at least two occasions, McCain admitted that his health care plan would deregulate the health insurance industry … On Thursday, McCain policy adviser Jay Khosla argued that “what Senator McCain has proposed has nothing to do with deregulation.”

- During the fight over Medicare physician reimbursement rates, McCain claimed that bringing Medicare Advantage reimbursements in line with traditional Medicare “places 2.3 million seniors at risk of losing the private health care coverage of their choice” … During a conference call with reporters on Friday, Holtz-Eakin explained that McCain would pay for his health plan by eliminating government subsidies for private Medicare Advantage plans.

As regular readers of WonkRoom.org are aware, McCain has repeatedly promised to balance the budget by the end of his first term. We’re skeptical of the campaign’s ability to both balance the budget and finance their $1.3 trillion budget gap.

But achievable or not, FactCheck.org is unwilling to question the McCain campaign’s competing assertions — that their proposal is budget neutral, does not raise taxes for most or all taxpayers, and does not cut Medicare or Medicaid benefits. It’s a rank distortion for FactCheck.org to claim that CAPAF’s analysis twists McCain’s plan, when all it does is try to analyze the consequences of $1.3 trillion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

‹ McCain’s Health Plan Puts Baby Boomers At Risk

On Medicare Advantage, McCain Flips And Inflates ›

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