Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Fact Check: The Citizens United Ad Now Showing in CD8

Posted By on Tue, May 22, 2012 at 2:00 PM

Citizens United is the latest Super PAC to wade into the June 12 special election between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly to complete Gabby Giffords’ term.

Citizens United is spending $100,000 to run TV ads targeting Barber over cuts to Medicare Advantage in the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare, according to Politico.

The ad, which features an image of a sad elderly patient in a hospital bed, focuses on the same claims that we’ve already discussed in recent weeks about the “$500 billion in cuts” to Medicare under the Affordable Care Act.

Those claims have been repeatedly rated as “false” by PolitiFact and “misleading” by FactCheck.org, but they been recycled repeatedly by GOP political operatives since the 2010 midterm elections.

The Citizens United ad focuses attention on $130 billion in planned reductions in future expenses for the Medicare Advantage program, which uses private insurers to provide coverage to seniors, rather than the traditional Medicare program that the government runs.

“ObamaCare will gut the Medicare Advantage program,” the narrator says. “Jesse Kelly will save Medicare Advantage.”

A little bit of background on Medicare Advantage is helpful: About one-fourth of seniors across the country are now enrolled in Medicare Advantage, which was an experiment in seeing how the private sector could help hold Medicare costs down while providing better service for seniors.

While it has succeeded in providing, in some cases, better health-care benefits (such as gym memberships and vision and dental care plans), it has failed in keeping costs down. On average, Medicare Advantage costs about 14 percent more than traditional Medicare on a per-capita basis, according to Kaiser Health News.

The Affordable Care Act, as part of its effort to slow the growth of Medicare costs, introduces a variety of reforms for insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans to bring costs in line with traditional Medicare.

Republicans and their allies have hammered Democrats on those cuts, as in the Citizens United ad that accuses Barber of supporting a law that “guts” Medicare Advantage.

Whether Affordable Care Act guts Medicare Advantage is a matter of opinion, but an April Associated Press article noted that this year, premiums are down about 7 percent, while enrollment has climbed nearly 10 percent. And FactCheck.org notes that Medicare Advantage patients “will like see some of their extra benefits cut and may drop out of the program entirely. But they would still retain the basic benefits to which all current Medicare recipients are entitled.”

FactCheck.org also reports that the Affordable Care Act provides improved benefits for Medicare recipients: “For instance, beneficiaries will be able to get free preventative care, and the new law will close the ‘doughnut hole,’ a gap in Medicare’s prescription drug coverage that currently affects some seniors. Hardly a ‘gutting’ of the Medicare program.”

Barber says he supports reducing the “overpayment” that has been going to insurance companies through Medicare Advantage.

“That’s not a cut in service,” Barber says. “That’s an overpayment that’s going to be corrected over time.”

The Range has not been able to figure out what the GOP’s alternative to reducing the cost of Medicare Advantage is. Kelly, who refuses to do one-on-one interviews with the Tucson Weekly or the Arizona Daily Star, appears to be out of his depth when discussing policy matters.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, who is helping Kelly’s campaign, has been critical of the Medicare Advantage cuts, but said via email that he was not the right guy to discuss GOP policy alternatives.

But the House Republicans have given a glimpse into the long-term future of Medicare under a budget proposal by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan: Give seniors vouchers so they can purchase private insurance. Given that the Medicare Advantage experiment into privatizing Medicare has resulted in costing more money per patient, you might be skeptical about how well that would work.

BTW: Here’s an insight into how serious is the GOP about restoring that $500 billion in future reductions in Medicare: On Thursday, May 10—just two weeks ago—the House took a vote to alter a budget deal that was crafted as part of the big debt ceiling debacle.

Republicans passed on the opportunity to restore the Medicare funding cuts, just as they did when they voted on the Ryan budget in March 2012.

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