Campaign Watchdog: Andy Barr's 'Obamacare' claim mostly false

jbrammer@herald-leader.comSeptember 6, 2012 

The Herald-Leader will routinely check the accuracy of statements made by candidates and their surrogates leading up to the Nov. 6 election.

The statement: "Washington is a mess. And it's endangering programs like Medicare. Obamacare makes the problem even worse. It cuts $500 billion out of a system that is already broken. If we do nothing, the Medicare trust fund will be bankrupt in 12 years."

— Andy Barr, Republican congressional candidate, in a recent TV advertisement

The ruling: Mostly False

The facts: Lexington Attorney Andy Barr is trying for the second time to unseat Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler of Versailles in Central Kentucky's 6th Congressional District.

The future of Medicare, a federal government health program primarily for people age 65 and older, has become a major issue in the race. Each candidate claims the other is endangering the future of the entitlement program, the cost of which is projected to increase from $560 billion in 2010 to just over $1 trillion by 2022.

In July, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act would reduce future growth in Medicare spending by $716 billion over the next decade. It previously had estimated the reductions to be about $500 billion, the figure Barr's campaign uses in the TV ad.

The law, dubbed Obamacare by Republicans, is projected to save $716 billion by reducing the growth of Medicare's payment rates to insurance companies and health care providers. It does not reduce benefits to participants. Instead, it provides additional benefits, such as free preventive care, and provides coverage to many uninsured.

However, Barr and other Republicans argue that slower-growing payments to health care providers will impact Medicare beneficiaries by endangering the potential availability of needed medical services.

They point to an April 2010 analysis by chief Medicare actuary Richard Foster, who warns that “providers for whom Medicare constitutes a substantive portion of their business could find it difficult to remain profitable and, absent legislative intervention, might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries).”

Foster estimated that Medicare could become unprofitable for about 15 percent of hospitals within the 10-year projection period.

Supporters of the Affordable Care Act counter that hospitals will benefit from the millions of people expected to gain health insurance under the law.

Campaign Watchdog finds Barr’s claim to be mostly false. The statement leaves the false impression that Obamacare hurts the Medicare Trust Fund, causing it to run out of money sooner than it otherwise would have. The opposite is true. By reducing the growth of future Medicare spending, the Affordable Care Act extends the Medicare Trust Fund’s exhaustion date from 2016 to 2024.

The statement also leaves the misleading impression that the law cuts existing spending on Medicare, rather than slow the growth of future spending over a decade.

In addition, it's worth noting that Chandler voted against the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Since then, he has repeatedly opposed Republican attempts to repeal the law.

Jack Brammer (502) 227-1198. Twitter: @BGPolitics. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com

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