Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bachmann’s nonsensical Medicare-‘Obamacare’ claim

By Glenn Kessler

(SEAN GARDNER/REUTERS) “While we've been seeing the liberals in the last few weeks trying to scare Americans about Medicare, and especially senior citizens, what's been ignored is President Obama's plan for senior citizens regarding Medicare. … And do you know what the president's plan is? This hasn't been talked about very much. The president's plan for senior citizens is Obamacare. We all think for our senior citizens that somehow Medicare is going to go on. And I think very likely -- and I'm speculating -- I think very likely what the president intends is that Medicare will go broke, and then ultimately that answer will be Obamacare for senior citizens.”

--Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), June 17, 2011

It’s hard to know what to make of this comment by Rep. Michele Bachmann, made during her speech last Friday to the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans. She also repeated elements of this claim during an interview with CNN (there is a clip at the end of this column.) “I think the president’s plan is Obamacare for senior citizens,” Bachmann told CNN. “They don’t want Obamacare; they want Medicare, and that’s why I am committed to making Medicare solvent.”

In her speech, the presidential aspirant also made the debunked assertion that regulations are “$1.7 trillion burden on our job creators.” We had examined this several months ago and the Congressional Research Service in April also critiqued the study that is the source of this statistic. Bachmann also repeated the incorrect claim that President Obama took $500 billion “out of Medicare to give it to younger people.”

But Bachmann’s claim that the president’s plan is to replace Medicare with “Obamacare” is what most intrigued several readers. One should always be wary of a politician when he or she says they are “speculating,” since that is an apparent license to throw facts to the wind. A spokeswoman for the Bachmann presidential campaign did not respond to a request for clarification, so we will have to parse this language and her CNN interview ourselves.

The Facts

The current Medicare system, in place since the mid-1960s, is essentially a government-run health care program, with hospital and doctors’ fees paid by the government, though beneficiaries also pay premiums for some services as well as deductibles and coinsurance.

Bachmann says the Democrats are trying to scare seniors about Medicare, and we would agree with that, though Republicans are equally guilty of using scare tactics on Medicare. In fact, Bachmann’s bogus claim about the $500 billion is a good example of such fear-mongering.

But Medicare today is in effect a European-style, socialized health care program, so we are unclear what Bachmann means when she says Obama wants to take a program that is already socialized medicine and turn it into Obamacare. A single-payer option—much like Medicare—was rejected when the Democratic-led Congress drafted the health care law.

Instead, the Obama health care law sets up “health insurance exchanges” in which people can shop for policies. Depending on the income level, they may qualify for a government subsidy.

Ironically, one can make a case that the House Republican budget plan is designed to turn Medicare into a program that has some of the key features of Obama’s health care law.

For instance, seniors would be given government subsidies, which they would then use to shop for coverage from private companies in a new kind of marketplace called an “Exchange.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), the chief architect, might dismiss these as superficial similarities but the fact remains that Medicare is currently a government-run program--which is one reason why Democrats so fiercely oppose efforts that they say will dismantle that feature.

That’s why it is strange for Bachmann to suggest that Obama wants to replace Medicare with Obamacare, which relies on the private insurance market. If Obama had had the votes in Congress, he would have pushed for a Medicare-like option in his health care law—but not the other way around.

To top it off, Bachmann voted for the Republican budget plan and claims she supports it to prevent Medicare from “going flat broke in 13 years.” To be clear, only the hospital trust fund will be “depleted’ and the government will still be able to cover 90 percent of the program costs. That is not the same as bankruptcy.

The Pinocchio Test

Are you confused? We’re totally befuddled.

It initially was hard to tell whether Bachmann’s rhetoric in the speech just ran amok or this was a point she wanted to make. But then she repeated the notion that Obama wanted to replace Medicare with “Obamacare” in her interview with CNN. There is no evidence for this and it is completely nonsensical. For a member of Congress, she really should know the basics of government-funded health care programs.

Four Pinocchios