ASHINGTON — In letter after letter, Republican lawmakers have reminded their constituents: Obamacare cut Medicare.
Implied, and sometimes stated outright, was that the GOP’s own plan should instead bolster the program.
“Any reforms must protect Medicare,” Congressman Ted Poe, a Texas Republican who represents a district in the Houston area, wrote in a letter last month to one of his constituents about the Affordable Care Act’s failures and his party’s own plans.
“Obamacare took $500 million from Medicare to pay for its infrastructure,” Poe continued. “That was wrong, and Medicare must be strengthened so that it is still there for future generations.”
But the bill now working its way through Congress does not reverse those cuts. Instead, Republicans for now appear committed to keeping this reviled part of the law.
The letters from Poe and other lawmakers were gathered as part of a STAT project with other news organizations, including ProPublica, Kaiser Health News, and Vox, to fact-check claims about the ACA. In those letters, lawmakers echo many of their public statements on Obamacare, but they also make questionable and sometimes false statements about how the health care system works under the law and what their own plan would do.
It is true that the ACA cut Medicare to offset additional spending. By one estimate, the law reduced Medicare spending by $716 billion over 10 years. Most of those cuts came through reduced Medicare payments to health care providers and to the private insurance plans that offer coverage to seniors through the Medicare Advantage program.
The cuts became a popular attack line during the 2012 presidential election, when Mitt Romney’s campaign aired television ads blasting President Obama for targeting Medicare in the health care law.
Congressional Republicans have stuck with that critique of Obamacare in the subsequent years, up to the present day.
In a recent letter to a constituent, Congressman Ken Calvert, a California Republican, slammed the law for “raiding over $600 billion from the Social Security and Medicare trust funds.”
But in their own bill released shortly thereafter, the American Health Care Act, Republicans have left the Obamacare cuts in place.
“The AHCA does not repeal the ACA’s [Medicare Advantage] or Medicare provider payment reductions,” Juliette Cubanski, who studies Medicare at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email. “They are retained under the AHCA.”
It could be a procedural matter, the experts at Kaiser said. Eliminating those cuts would add to the bill’s costs, and the legislation cannot increase the federal deficit under the complex procedure being used to avoid a Democratic filibuster in the Senate.
Neither Poe nor other GOP lawmakers who criticized the ACA for cutting Medicare responded to requests for comment.
Nevertheless, as their own plan was being drafted, many of them kept slamming Obama’s health care law for its Medicare cuts in letters to the people they represent. Those constituents would be forgiven for thinking that, after all this criticism, the GOP planned to undo that part of the law.
“With regard to ensuring patients have access to the doctors of their choice, the Affordable Care Act fails again,” Congressman Keith Rothfus, a Republican who represents a district in western Pennsylvania, said in one letter last month. “The law initially cut $716 billion (now $850 billion) from Medicare, a critically important program for seniors.”
Senators Pat Roberts of Kansas and John McCain of Arizona also singled out Obamacare’s Medicare cuts in recent letters sent to their constituents about the law.
“Numerous concerns which I, and many of my colleagues, had during the debate on this bill are ringing true,” Roberts wrote. “The law cuts Medicare, cost the nation more than two trillion dollars and has created higher premiums, higher taxes, less choice, confusion, delays and problem after problem.”
For their part, Roberts and McCain have not committed to voting for the House bill, should it reach the Senate. The House is set to take up the bill on Thursday. Poe and Calvert are expected to vote for it; Rothfus’s position is unknown.