Medicare, health reform and taxes: Factcheck and Politifact set the record straight on common attack ad claims

By Lauren McNitt

ProducersWEB


Election Day is tomorrow, and each of us are likely sick of hearing the attack ads flooding radio and television. If one were to believe these ads, every candidate —regardless of party affiliation — is a lying, un-American, tax-raising scoundrel who plans to leave children without health coverage and seniors without income.

Luckily, the non-partisan websites Factcheck.org and Politifact.com are sifting through the mudslinging to bring us the facts. Here are a few claims they found to be questionable at best, and outright untrue at worst.

Medicare:

Democrats slashed $500 billion in Medicare.
Politifact says, while true, ads making this statement are misleading:

Democrats did vote to reduce spending as part of the health care reform law, and it does sound like a humongous amount — until you learn that the cuts are spread out over the next decade and aimed at parts of Medicare that are considered wasteful or ineffective.

Factcheck elaborates:

The law calls for reducing the future growth of Medicare spending over the next 10 years by about 7 percent. Plus, the law stipulates that guaranteed Medicare benefits won’t be reduced, and it adds some new benefits, such as improved coverage for pharmaceuticals. Those seniors on Medicare Advantage plans (one out of four beneficiaries), however, will likely see their extra benefits reduced. These private insurance plans currently receive higher payments from the government than traditional Medicare, and the law decreases those payments over time. In addition, the law calls for reducing the future growth in payments to hospitals and other providers. While experts say some hospitals will have trouble coping with the new spending restraints, ads go too far in claiming that the law will "gut Medicare" or "hurt the quality of our care."

Health reform forces seniors to enroll in government-run health care.
Politifact says not true:

Lots of Republicans have made the dubious claim that the health care bill amounts to "government-run healthcare." But Dan Coats, Republican candidate in the Indiana Senate race, upped the ante with an ad that claimed the law will "force seniors into Barack Obama's government-run health care program." Let's set aside for a moment that the law wouldn't force anyone to join any plan they aren't already in. More importantly, seniors are already in a government-run health care program. It's called Medicare.

Republicans plan to slash Social Security, Medicare and/or Veterans’ benefits.
Politifact says this claim is mostly false in one case, and rates another case as completely false:

We looked at [Barbara] Boxer's [D-Calif.] claim that her Republican opponent, Carly Fiorina, had a plan that "would mean slashing Social Security and Medicare." We rated that Barely True. Fiorina's plans for the programs lack detail and certainly don't indicate a "slashing." In Ohio, Democratic incumbent Rep. Betty Sutton charged that her Republican opponent Tom Ganley would "'cut the dickens' out of Social Security, Medicare and Veterans' benefits." We rated that Pants on Fire, because Ganley was talking about discretionary spending, not entitlements.

Health care reform:

Health care reform will impose tax penalties on small businesses.
Politifact says the opposite is true:

For example, we checked a claim from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad attacking Rep. Betsy Markey, D-Colo., that the law crushes small business with "billions in penalties." We rated that False. The health care law actually includes tax breaks for the smallest businesses or exempts them from penalties.

Under health care reform, abortions will be funded by tax payers.
Factcheck says this is mostly false, with a few rare exceptions:

As we’ve said before, strictly speaking, it does not, except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother’s life, the same government restrictions that have applied to Medicaid recipients, federal workers and the military. The controversy stems from how the law aims to guarantee those rules are followed when the government provides subsidies to purchase insurance.

The law says that those receiving subsidies to buy insurance through state-based exchanges must submit a separate payment to cover abortion services (if they choose a plan that covers abortions), and insurance providers must keep federal money separate from private payments to ensure the federal money does not go toward abortion coverage. President Obama also signed an executive order reaffirming the federal rules on only funding abortion in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life. Does that go too far or not far enough? That depends on one’s viewpoint, and we’ll let readers be the judge.


Estate tax:

Democrats are reintroducing a tax that will give half of a deceased person’s estate to the government when they die.
Politifact says this is an exaggeration:

In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Republican Pat Toomey claimed that Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak "wants to bring back the death tax, letting the IRS take half of your savings when you die." We found that was an exaggeration because Toomey incorrectly implies the estate tax would apply to a large share of taxpayers and their entire estates. In fact, only the wealthiest Americans would pay the tax under the proposal that Sestak supports, and the proposal would exclude $3.5 million per person and $7 million per couple.

Sales tax:

Republicans support a 23 percent sales tax.
Factcheck says this statement is misleading:

In dozens of TV ads, Democrats or Democratic-leaning groups accused Republicans of favoring a 23 percent national sales tax, as though such a thing would come in addition to existing taxes. The attacks (which were also made in fancy mail pieces) amounted to a misrepresentation of the "FairTax" proposal. The claims failed to mention that the sales tax would replace — not add to — existing federal income and payroll taxes. Democrats also left out any mention of offsetting rebates designed to mitigate the increased cost of essentials like food and medicine — a main feature of the FairTax proposal.