Rush Limbaugh is wrong: The sequester does cut Medicare

Since I wrote a story Wednesday about cancer clinics turning away patients due to sequester cuts, I've received a number of e-mails like this one: "The fact is that the sequester does not touch Medicare." and "The sequester has NO cuts involved WHATSOEVER to Medicare/Medicaid."

They started a bit after a segment on the Rush Limbaugh Show, which made the case that these cuts were part of Obamacare, rather than the sequester. You can read the full transcript here. A key paragraph:

Washington Post says: "Legislators meant to partially shield Medicare from the automatic budget cuts triggered by the sequester, limiting the program to a 2 percent reduction -- a fraction of the cuts seen by other federal programs. But oncologists say the cut is unexpectedly damaging for cancer patients because of the way those treatments are covered." And even those cuts are not real. As the AP says, legislators exempted Medicare and Medicaid from the sequester. There aren't any cuts in Medicare. All of this is manufactured and made up.

Just to set the record straight: Yes, the sequester does cut Medicare, although to a lesser degree than other federal programs. We don't need any analyst or cancer group to tell us that. We can look at the legislation that created the sequester, the Budget Control Act of 2011. Here's the key paragraph (with the key sentence in bold):

(8) IMPLEMENTING DIRECT SPENDING REDUCTIONS.β€”On the date specified in paragraph (4) during each applicable year, OMB shall prepare and the President shall order a sequestration, effective upon issuance, of nonexempt direct spending to achieve the direct spending reduction calculated pursuant to paragraphs (5) and (6). When implementing the sequestration of direct spending pursuant to this paragraph, OMB shall follow the procedures specified in section 6 of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, the exemptions specified in section 255, and the special rules specified in section 256, except that the percentage reduction for the Medicare programs specified in section 256(d) shall not be more than 2 percent for a fiscal year.

That's pretty much it right there: Medicare is subject to a maximum cut of 2 percent under the automatic budget reductions. It is true, though, that the Medicaid program, which covers low-income Americans, was exempted from the sequester cuts altogether. It's one of those exemptions mentioned above, in section 255 of the BCA.

Also on Wonkblog

WonkTalk: The sequester's impact on cancer patients