AP uncritically quoted McConnell's claims that health reform means "massive cuts to Medicare," "taxes on small business"

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In an August 18 Associated Press article, David Espo quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell's claim that health reform proposals will be paid for "through massive cuts to Medicare," without pointing out, as FactCheck.org did, that "[t]he claim that Obama and Congress are cutting seniors' Medicare benefits to pay for the health care overhaul is outright false." Additionally, Espo quoted McConnell's assertion that health reform will be funded through "taxes on small business," without noting that according to House Democrats, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that only 4.1 percent of small businesses would be affected by the surtax in the House Democrats' health reform bill or that the Senate HELP bill provides credits to help small businesses comply with the mandated coverage provisions.

From Espo's August 18 AP article:

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, issued a statement that emphasized other complaints about Obama's proposals.

"While both political parties believe we need to reform our health care system, particularly in the areas of cost and access, Americans are rightly skeptical about the administration's approach to overhauling everyone's health care and about the more than $1 trillion price tag. Moreover, Americans are concerned about funding new government programs through massive cuts to Medicare and taxes on small business," he said.

FactCheck.org, AARP have rebutted notion that health reform will reduce Medicare benefits

FactCheck.org: "The claim that Obama and Congress are cutting seniors' Medicare benefits to pay for the health care overhaul is outright false."

From FactCheck.org's August 14 article, "Seven Falsehoods About Health Care":

False: Medicare Benefits Will Be Slashed

The claim that Obama and Congress are cutting seniors' Medicare benefits to pay for the health care overhaul is outright false, though that doesn't keep it from being repeated ad infinitum.

The truth is that the pending House bill extracts $500 billion from projected Medicare spending over 10 years, as scored by the Congressional Budget Office, by doing such things as trimming projected increases in the program's payments for medical services, not including physicians. Increases in other areas, such as payments to doctors, bring the net savings down to less than half that amount. But none of the predicted savings -- or cuts, depending on one's perspective -- come from reducing current or future benefits for seniors.

The president has promised repeatedly that benefit levels won't be reduced, reiterating the point recently in Portsmouth, N.H.:

Obama, Aug. 11: Another myth that we've been hearing about is this notion that somehow we're going to be cutting your Medicare benefits. We are not.

Is he wrong? Not according to AARP, by far the nation's largest organization representing the over-50 population. In a "Myths vs. Facts" rundown, AARP says:

AARP: Fact: None of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.

To be sure, Obama hasn't always thought that Medicare "savings" could be accomplished without actual cuts in benefits. Last fall, his campaign ran two television ads accusing Sen. John McCain of wanting "a 22 percent cut in [Medicare] benefits." The basis for the ads was a newspaper article in which a McCain aide said the Arizona Republican would cut Medicare costs. But the aide said nothing about cutting benefits, in fact quite the contrary. We called the claim "false" when Obama made it against McCain, and it's still false now when Obama's critics are making the same accusation against him. [FactCheck.org, 8/14/09]

FactCheck.org: "Congress isn't proposing to cut [Medicare] benefit levels." According to an August 18 FactCheck.org article, "None of the 'savings' or 'cuts' (whichever you prefer)" to Medicare in the House bill "come from reducing current or future benefit levels for seniors." From the article:

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the House bill would result in "savings" of $219 billion after all increases and decreases are netted out. The House bill would trim projected increases in payments for hospitals, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and others, including home health care providers and suppliers of motor-driven wheelchairs. But it also proposes what CBO estimates is a $245 billion increase in spending for doctors, by canceling a scheduled 21 percent cut in physician payments. None of the "savings" or "cuts" (whichever you prefer) come from reducing current or future benefit levels for seniors. [FactCheck.org, 8/18/09]

AARP says idea that "Health care reform will hurt Medicare" is a "Myth." From the AARP's "Myths vs. Facts" on health care reform:

Myth: Health care reform will hurt Medicare.

Fact: None of the health care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase your out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.

Fact: Health care reform will lower prescription drug costs for people in the Medicare Part D coverage gap or "doughnut hole" so they can get better afford the drugs they need.

Fact: Health care reform will protect seniors' access to their doctors and reduce the cost of preventive services so patients stay healthier.

Fact: Health care reform will reduce costly, preventable hospital readmissions, saving patients and Medicare money.

Fact: Rather than weaken Medicare, health care reform will strengthen the financial status of the Medicare program.

Bottom Line: For people in Medicare, health care reform is about lowering prescription drug costs for people in the "doughnut hole", keeping the doctor of your choice, improving the quality of care, and eliminating billions in waste that is causing poor care and medical errors. [AARP, accessed 8/18/09]

House bill's proposed tax would reportedly only affect 4.1 percent of small businesses

Tax in House bill applies only to income exceeding $350,000 per year for joint filers, with the 5.4 rate applied to income exceeding $1 million. As Media Matters for America has noted, the House tri-committee legislation would establish a 1 percent tax on joint income exceeding $350,000 but not greater than $500,000 per year; a 1.5 percent tax on joint income exceeding $500,000 but not greater than $1 million per year; and a 5.4 percent tax on joint income exceeding $1 million per year. Single filers would be subject to the surtax starting at income exceeding $280,000 per year.

Ways and Means Committee stated that according to nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, only 4.1 percent of small business owners would be affected. The committee stated in a summary document: "Using the broadest definition of a small business owner (i.e., any individual with as little as $1 of small business income), the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that only 4.1% of all small business owners would be affected by the health care surcharge."

Senate HELP bill would provide subsidies to help small businesses pay for coverage of employees

Senate HELP bill outlines credits to small businesses. Sec. 3112 of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions committee bill outlines credits allocated "in the case of an employer that is a qualified small employer" under its "SMALL BUSINESS HEALTH OPTIONS PROGRAM."

CBO, JCT: Senate HELP bill provides subsidies to small employers to help comply with the mandated coverage provisions. According to the July 2 preliminary analysis of the Senate HELP bill by the Congressional Budget Office and JCT, "[f]irms with more than 25 workers would be subject to a 'play-or-pay' requirement." It further noted that "[t]he government would provide subsidies to small employers whose workers have low average wages, who offer health benefits to those workers, and who contribute at least 60 percent of the premium":

Firms with more than 25 workers would be subject to a "play-or-pay" requirement. If a firm did not offer qualified health insurance and contribute at least 60 percent toward the premium, it would have to pay an annual penalty (labeled an "equity assessment") that is initially equal to $750 per full-time worker and $375 per part-time worker. Those dollar amounts would be indexed to medical price inflation after 2013.

[...]

The government would provide subsidies to small employers whose workers have low average wages, who offer health benefits to those workers, and who contribute at least 60 percent of the premium. The amount of the subsidy would vary with the size of the firm (up to a limit of 50 workers), and firms that contribute larger amounts toward their workers' insurance would receive larger subsidies (up to a limit of $1,800 per worker for single coverage at firms with fewer than 10 employees who do not require any worker contribution toward health insurance premiums). The credit would be available indefinitely, but firms would be allowed to take the credit in only three out of every four years.

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Health Care, Health Care Reform
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Associated Press
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David Espo
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