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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pat Boone Misleads Seniors

The same old claims about the federal health care law turn up once again in an ad featuring pop and gospel singer Pat Boone, the national spokesman for the conservative 60 Plus Association.

The group says it’s spending $750,000 to air the minute-long ad in Ohio, and the spot had already aired 459 times as of Nov. 14, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. It attacks Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, with Boone telling viewers to call Brown and “urge him to support real Medicare reform and protect our seniors.”

Rationing Redux

We’ve been over some of the assertions that Boone makes more times than we care to count. But our fact-checking persistence hasn’t stopped groups like 60 Plus from repeating the claims. And repeating them, and repeating them.

We’ll try again.

The ad claims that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “creates a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats,” called the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which, Boone says, “can ration care and deny certain Medicare treatments so Washington can fund more wasteful spending.” But the board isn’t made up of “bureaucrats,” and it can’t “ration care.”

At the end of the ad, Boone repeats these false claims, saying that “unaccountable bureaucrats should never have the power to deny you the care you deserve.”

The IPAB is tasked with finding ways to reduce the growth in Medicare spending. Its 15 voting members won’t be bureaucrats; according to the health care law (see page 502), they will be doctors and medical professionals, economists and health care management experts, and representatives for consumers and seniors. The law says the president will appoint the members in consultation with Congress and with consent of the Senate.

The law also explicitly says that the IPAB’s proposals “shall not include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums … increase Medicare beneficiary costsharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.” (See page 490.)

Despite very clear language in the law itself, the “ration” claim has been made by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan and presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The ultimate decision rests with Congress, which can reject the board’s recommendations. It can either come up with equal cost reductions of its own, or disregard the recommendations outright by a three-fifths majority vote. And while a three-fifths majority is difficult to obtain, as we’ve written before, some doubt whether that supermajority requirement would be upheld by the courts. Either way, Congress gets the final say.

Still Wrong on Medicare

The ad says that the law “cuts $500 billion from Medicare.” That’s a $500 billion cut in the future growth of Medicare over 10 years, or about a 7 percent reduction in growth over the decade. But 60 Plus doesn’t mention those details.

Later in the ad, Boone says that “Medicare will be bankrupt in nine years,” but “politicians, like Sherrod Brown, are ignoring the problem.” Medicare isn’t going to be bankrupt in nine years. We’ve heard this one before, too.

The truth is that Medicare Part A — the hospital insurance trust fund, one of four parts of Medicare — is expected to be insolvent by 2020, according to projections from the Congressional Budget Office, or perhaps 2024, according to the Social Security and Medicare Boards of Trustees. But that doesn’t mean the program will be calling it quits at the end of this decade. Shortfalls have been projected for Part A “almost from its inception,” says a Congressional Research Service report. Way back in 1970, the board of trustees said the trust fund would be in financial trouble a mere two years later. The warnings have continued, but Congress constantly finds ways to extend the program.

Plus, the trustees said that Part B (which pays for physician services) and Part D (prescription drug coverage) were “both projected to remain adequately financed into the indefinite future because current law automatically provides financing each year to meet the next year’s expected costs.” Part C is Medicare Advantage, offered by private insurance companies.

The ad urges action to preserve Medicare but objects to $500 billion in cuts. But those cuts in the health care law would extend the projected life of Medicare Part A by 12 years, according to Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster. As the Medicare Board of Trustees said in its report: “The financial status of the HI trust fund was substantially improved by the lower expenditures and additional tax revenues instituted by the Affordable Care Act.”

Of course, that’s if the $500 billion in cuts actually happen, and if the money is used to fund Medicare. There’s good reason to think that some of those reductions won’t be implemented. The law calls for cuts in the future growth of reimbursement payments to hospitals and other health care providers — that accounts for $219 billion of the Medicare savings in the law. But Congress has consistently overridden similar scheduled cuts in payments to doctors.

Boone hints at the political precariousness of making any changes to Medicare in this ad, saying that politicians are “putting their own reelections first” when they ignore the issue. But the Medicare board and the law’s cuts in spending are designed to extend the program’s solvency. Boone and 60 Plus may not agree with those methods — and they’re entitled to that opinion — but they mislead seniors by making false claims about the law’s effect on Medicare.

— Lori Robertson