The false claim that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 cut $716 billion out of Medicare has been oft-repeated in political ads and speeches in recent weeks. The law eliminates current over-payments to insurance companies, limits fraud and waste, and slows the growth of the program. Based on a Congressional Budget Office finding that repeal of the landmark healthcare reform law — and those important provisions — would increase Medicare costs by $716 billion between 2013 and 2022, many have incorrectly asserted that that means the bill will cut that amount from the program. A ThinkProgress analysis of independent advertisements and data from Kantar Media’s CMAG system reveals that between September 1 and October 1, an array of conservative outside groups spent about $8 million in attack ads, repeating the false claim, against House and Senate candidates across the country.
The 60 Plus Association, American Action Network, American Crossroads, the Center for Individual Freedom, the Congressional Leadership Fund, Crossroads GPS, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran a total of television 27 ads over the period accusing candidates in House and Senate races of supporting “$716 billion in Medicare cuts,” “slashing Medicare spending by over $700 billion,” “cutting $716 billion from Medicare,” and similar variations. Their spots have run in targeted House races in California, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Utah — and in key Senate races in Florida, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
One ad — a U.S. Chamber of Commerce spot running in Wisconsin — consists of fake constituent complaints left on an answering machine of the candidate complaining about the alleged cuts. A woman says “My Ma depends on Medicare. Why would you vote to cut it?” A man demands: “Keep your hands of my Medicare.” Another man asks “716 billion?”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing 300,000 businesses, opposed the health care reform law. The NFIB, which claims to represent 350,000 small business owners, unsuccessfully sued to get the law overturned.
With around $15 million spent by all outside groups on TV ads in House races and about $19 million spent on these “independent” ads in Senate races, the $7,996,260 spent on these “$716 billion in Medicare cuts” ads accounts for almost a quarter of outside spending over the 31-day period.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s 5–4 Citizens United ruling, outside groups like this are free to run ads for and against political candidates using as much corporate money as they wish. Due to weak disclosure laws, most of those outside groups need never publicly identify the companies and individuals funding their ads.