Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

McCain Robocall Sounds Familiar

Last year, Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign proposed cuts to Medicare spending to finance his health care overhaul proposal. This year, Senate Democrats have proposed cuts to Medicare spending to finance their health care overhaul proposal.

Last year, the Obama camp promptly attacked McCain, falsely claiming, as we pointed out, that the Republican was going to reduce benefits and that seniors would "receive fewer services, and get lower quality care." This year (this week, in fact), McCain echoed that refrain, saying in a robocall that the savings in the Senate bill would cut "vital Medicare coverage for our seniors."

Confused yet?

McCain has done more than make some phone calls. On Monday, he introduced an amendment to send the health care bill back to the Senate Finance Committee to nix the Medicare reductions, which would eliminate a substantial source of funding. His robocall (sent to us by a reader) asks Arizona voters to get on his side and "join my effort to fight a Washington, D.C., government takeover of your health care." Hotline On Call reports that McCain has recorded versions of the robocall, aimed at independent voters in a handful of states, for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

On his Web site, the senator offers more detail about the Medicare savings proposals he opposes, saying: "These reductions include $120 billion to the Medicare Advantage program, $150 billion to providers including hospitals, hospice, and nursing homes, and $23 billion in unspecified decreases to be determined by an ‘Independent Medicare Advisory board.’ "

As we’ve written before, the reductions in the Medicare Advantage program could lead to a cut in the extra benefits that many of these beneficiaries receive — cuts valued at about $43 per month in 2019, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Seniors in Medicare Advantage, about 22 percent of those on Medicare or 10 million seniors, get coverage through private plans, and they often receive some bonus benefits, such as a gym membership or a reduced premium. They’re able to get these extras because Medicare pays extra — 14 percent more per beneficiary than it does for regular Medicare beneficiaries, and it’s that perceived overpayment that Democrats propose to eliminate. The CBO has estimated that the move would change the value of the extra benefits Medicare Advantage participants get, but they would not receive fewer benefits than the rest of seniors who aren’t on the Advantage plans. The bill does add some extras for Medicare beneficiaries, eliminating copays and deductibles for preventive services, for example.

Three seniors groups have come out in opposition to McCain’s amendment: AARP, the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare and the Alliance for Retired Americans, which, like the other groups, said that the bill "does not cut Medicare benefits. With the expected rising costs of Medicare, the legislation slows the rate of the program’s growth without reducing benefits."