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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

NRCC Claims Democrat Will End Medicare

The National Republican Congressional Committee misleads in a TV ad that claims a Democratic candidate for Congress supports “eliminating Medicare entirely.”

David Gill, who is running for a House seat in Illinois, supports a universal health care plan that would cover all Americans — ending the need for a stand-alone Medicare program. The federal government would still provide coverage to seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries under the proposal.

The NRCC’s ad contains three more claims that fail to tell the whole story or are misleading.

  • The ad claims Gill supports “huge tax hikes even for the middle class” to pay for the universal health care plan. It’s true that new income and payroll taxes would fund the program. But the proposal — in theory — would result in offsetting reductions in out-of-pocket spending on medical costs.
  • The NRCC claims Gill called it “foolishness” to balance the federal budget “every year.” And that’s true, he did. But Gill also said it was “necessary” to balance the budget “over time,” leaving flexibility for “unexpected disasters or wars.”
  • The NRCC repeats the false Republican claim that the Affordable Care Act would “gut” $716 billion from Medicare. The law cuts that much in the growth of Medicare, extending its solvency for eight more years.

The NRCC has spent more than $300,000 on ads opposing Gill, who is making his fourth run for Congress, this time for an open seat in the newly redrawn 13th Congressional District. Gill is facing off against Republican Rodney Davis as well as independent candidate John Hartman.

Retiring Illinois Rep. Tim Johnson, a Republican who has held the seat for six terms, recently called for a “cease fire” on negative television ads in the district, where six super PACs have spent $2 million since August.

Roll Call rates the district as “leaning Republican.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has so far poured $800,000 into the race in hopes of picking up a House seat. A recent poll has Gill in a dead heat with his Republican opponent.

Our thanks to an Illinois resident who sent the ad to Spin Detectors, through which we ask readers to help us monitor political claims. The Illinois resident, who pointed out the false Medicare claim in his email, did not respond to our requests to give him credit for alerting us to the ad.

Misleading on Medicare

The ad claims that part of Gill’s plan is “eliminating Medicare entirely.” But as he states on his campaign website, Gill supports a health care program “that extends coverage to all Americans.”

Gill, an emergency room doctor, has been pushing this idea since at least 2004, when he first tried to unseat Johnson, the retiring congressman. (Gill says he supports many of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. But he believes insurance companies still have too much power, which is why he’s pushing for a universal health care program.)

Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact debunked this claim in another ad the NRCC put out against Gill in early September. As PolitiFact pointed out, the NRCC cherry-picks Gill’s quote from a 2004 debate with Johnson.

During that debate, Gill advocated for a universal health care plan that would cover everyone — including Medicare recipients. He said the plan would eliminate the need for Medicare as well as its taxes, which would be supplanted by taxes on income and business payrolls.

But the NRCC uses in its ad only one sentence from Gill’s explanation: “Medicare would no longer exist.”

WILL, the public radio and television station that hosted the debate, posted the full audio on its website. Gill’s description of the universal health care plan begins at the 20-minute mark.

Gill, Oct. 14, 2004: It’s the plan put forth by PNHP — Physicians for a National Health Program. That’s the plan that I advocate.

It’s a plan which provides for all of the needed care of all Americans. Everybody’s in. Nobody’s out. It provides for all preventative care, long-term care for your nursing home residents, mental health care, acute disease, chronic illness.

Moderator: And you pay for it how?

Gill: It’s a tax-based plan. It’s important to note that it essentially amounts to something of a tax cut though because more than 95 percent of households would save substantial amounts of money. One example cited by PNHP, and I’m not married to these particular numbers, but they talk about a 2 percent income tax and a 7 percent payroll tax on business. So, that a gentleman earning $40,000 a year would pay $800 in taxes, far less than what he’s putting into the system today. You wouldn’t have bills for insurance premiums, no copays, no deductibles, no doctor bills, no hospital bills.

Moderator: So, is there a tax increase involved in your plan – or the plan you support?

Gill: It would be a 2 percent tax. You’d do away with your Medicare tax because Medicare would no longer exist.

Tricky Tax Claim

The ad takes another swipe at Gill for the income tax that would help pay for the universal health care plan. The NRCC claims that Gill “supported huge tax hikes even for the middle class” and displays a quote from Gill that the plan would cost the average family $760 a year.

It’s true — as Gill noted during the 2004 debate — that the physicians group proposed funding the plan with a 7 percent payroll tax on businesses and a 2 percent income tax, which would be $760 for someone earning $38,000 year. But the NRCC ignores that the plan — at least in theory — would cover all medical costs, such as insurance premiums and deductibles.

Furthermore, Gill claimed in the 2004 debate that he’s “not married” to the particular tax figures in the physicians plan.

NRCC spokeswoman Katie Prill told us in an email that “Illinois families need to know that David Gill supports a plan in which Medicare would no longer exist, Americans would be forced into government run healthcare and taxes would be raised to pay for it all.”

The claim that Medicare “would no longer exist” without further explanation smells a lot like the assertion — from Democrats — that House Republicans voted to “end Medicare” when they actually proposed changing it. Gill supports a universal health care plan that would cover the same people Medicare covers now.

More Malarkey

The NRCC ad also fails to provide the full context of Gill’s quote to Project Vote Smart regarding balancing the federal budget. The NRCC claims Gill called it “foolishness” to balance the federal budget “every year.” And that’s true, he did. But Gill also said it was “necessary” to balance the budget “over time,” leaving flexibility for “unexpected disasters or wars.”

Gill: Balancing the budget over a period of time is necessary, but requiring this annually is foolishness, given the potential for unexpected disasters or wars. Targeted stimulus funding can frequently result in a net gain of dollars for the government.

The NRCC also repeats the well-worn Republican falsity that the new health care law — provisions of which Gill supported — is “gutting Medicare by $716 billion.”

As we’ve explained  before, the Affordable Care Act calls for a $716 billion reduction in the growth of Medicare spending over 10 years, a move that — if successful — would keep the hospital insurance trust fund solvent for eight more years.

And House Republicans — who sponsored this ad — have called for a similar reduction in the future growth of Medicare spending.

— Ben Finley