“On TV, Mark Pryor talks about the health-care law he helped pass. What Pryor doesn’t say is that law was Obamacare. Or that it cuts over $700 billion from our Medicare and will cut benefits seniors rely on. Obamacare meant threatened insurance plans, higher premiums, and broken promises.”
–voiceover of Crossroads GPS ad attacking Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
Sen. Mark Pryor, one of the endangered Red State Democrats seeking reelection, made waves over the summer when he took the unusual step of running an ad defending the Affordable Care Act—but without mentioning the law by name. (“That’s why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions,” he said in the ad.)
This response from pro-GOP Crossroads GPS seeks to remind voters that the law in question is actually “Obamacare.” But are its claims getting a bit stale?
Regular readers know that The Fact Checker and other fact checking organization have long criticized the use of the $700-billion figure. That number comes from the difference over 10 years (2013-2022) between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes that the law makes to reduce spending. The savings mostly are wrung from health-care providers, not Medicare beneficiaries — who, as a result of the health-care law, ended up with new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs.
The ad flashes a headline saying Arkansas seniors faced a $1,295 cut in benefits, which it attributes to a study by the right-leaning American Action Forum, which has long been critical of the law. But this study focuses on alleged cuts in benefits for Medicare Advantage, a private-plan alternative to traditional Medicare used by about 27 percent of beneficiaries. In other words, not all seniors would face benefit cuts — and many others would gain benefits.
As we have noted before, the law sought to restrain the growth in Medicare Advantage, to the tune of $145 billion over 10 years, as it costs the U.S. government more per senior than fee-for-service Medicare. But under political pressure, the administration has also reversed some cuts that were to take place under the law.
The most dated assertion in the ad is that the law “threatened insurance plans [and] higher premiums.”
The phrase about “threatened” plans refers to the initial reports that hundreds of thousands of people in the individual market would lose the plans that did not comply with the law. However, a series of regulatory actions by the Obama administration mitigated that concern. The situation varies in different states, but Arkansas has deferred the phase-out of non-compliant plans until 2017.
The phrase “threatened” appears to be a sly way to get around the fact that, in the end, relatively few plans were affected—just that they were threatened to be affected. It also ignores the facts that a recent Gallup poll found that because of the law Arkansas led the nation in having the sharpest drop in the number of adults without health insurance—a decline of more than 10 percentage points.
As for rising premiums, the ad cites a 2013 report by a conservative organization that sought to document the increase in premiums before and after the law. But it’s very difficult to do an apples to apples comparison because the law does not allow insurance carriers to bar coverage to people with pre-existing conditions—and also mandates a robust package of benefits. The impact of the changes can vary depending on your age and where you live, making it more difficult to make broad comparisons.
Moreover, just one week before the ad began to air, Arkansas announced that insurance premiums would actually decline in 2015.
Paul Lindsay, a Crossroads spokesman, said: “As you’ll notice, our ad is in the past tense (“meant threatened insurance plans, higher premiums…”) and is about actions that have already occurred because of Obamacare.”
The Pinocchio Test
We can understand why Republicans might want to remind voters that Pryor is talking about the still-unpopular health-care law. But there’s little excuse for being stuck in a time warp of predicted fears, in contrast to what’s happening now.
Generally, we’ve given Two Pinocchios to claims about the $700 billion cut in Medicare. But running an ad about higher premiums — just a week after a decline in premiums was announced — tips this into the Three Pinocchio category.
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