Obama ‘Clearly Violated Pledge' that Health Reform Would Make No Cuts to Medicare, Republican Congressmen Charge

By Karen Schuberg | October 8, 2009 | 3:00 PM EDT

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., second from right, speaks during a health care news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2009. From left are, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., Blackburn, and Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama is wrong in the claim that his health-care plan will not cut into Medicare benefits, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told CNSNews.com Wednesday.
CNSNews.com asked Blunt if the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was right in contradicting the president when it stated that a health-care overhaul would affect seniors’ benefits.
“I think there’s no question that CBO is right on this topic,” the former House whip replied. (Budget Chief Douglas Elmendorf) starts off by saying (Obama’s plan) would eliminate Medicare Advantage benefits 25 percent -- or (for) roughly 25 percent of everybody on Medicare, so just the first shout out of the box you know the president is wrong in saying that nobody’s Medicare benefits would be reduced,” Blunt explained.
Blunt spoke at a Capitol Hill press conference on the Medicare cuts in the health-care reform bill, along with Reps. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Adam Putnam (R-Fla.)
In September, Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, told the Senate Finance Committee that the current health-reform bill, along with other health-care reform legislation circulating in Congress, would wring out approximately $500 billion in projected Medicare payments – including more than $100 billion that would be kept from going to payments to Medicare Advantage plans over 10 years.
Medicare Advantage allows those on Medicare to pay a monthly premium along with their monthly Medicare Part B payment in order to obtain “extra benefits” – including the ability to visit doctors who do not take traditional Medicare patients.
Elmendorf and the CBO said the cuts "would reduce the extra benefits that would be made available to beneficiaries through Medicare Advantage plans."
But Obama has repeatedly said his health care plan will not cut Medicare benefits. In July, he told AARP: “Nobody is talking about cutting Medicare benefits."
At an August town-hall meeting in Portsmouth, N.H., Obama pledged: “If you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan.” He also said, “We will (implement health care overhaul) without adding to our deficit over the next decade, largely by cutting out the waste and insurance company giveaways in Medicare that aren't making any of our seniors healthier.
“I just want to be clear, again: Seniors who are listening here, this does not affect your benefits.  This is not money going to you to pay for your benefits; this is money subsidizing folks who don’t need it,” the president added.
Blunt, the chairman of the House Republican Health-Care Solutions Group, said he does not find the president’s explanations adequate.
“They clearly violate the pledge, ‘If you like what you have now, you’ll be able to keep it,’” Blunt said.
Blunt said that Medicare Advantage makes it possible for many in both urban and rural settings to have health care – because many providers do not take traditional Medicare.
“(Medicare Advantage) opens up health-care doors for them that are shut otherwise,” he said. “And why rural settings? Because they may not be able to drive 100 miles to the first person that really takes traditional Medicare, where they can drive 10 miles to the first person that takes Medicare Advantage,” Blunt said.
Blunt said the health-care overhaul would do damage to a health-care program critical to a “significant number” of people.
“They put Medicare in jeopardy to fund a new program that nobody really has been able to explain yet how that program would work or should work, only that it be funded at the cost of a program that Americans have paid their entire working careers into, with assurance that they would be part of the program that would be there for them,” he said.
During the news conference, Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.) said Medicare Advantage often leads to better health outcomes for seniors as compared to normal Medicare.
“There are many studies out, one of which I think is very interesting, that show that those seniors enrolled in Medicare Advantage have fewer hospitalizations, shorter hospitalization stays, (and) fewer readmissions,” he said.
Deal noted the irony that supporters of health-care overhaul are touting “choices” when Medicare Advantage plans would suffer under the new plan.
“If one of the things that we all talk about is giving people more choices, to eliminate the Medicare Advantage plans is simply a step in the wrong direction,” Deal said.
Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) pointed out the popularity of Medicare Advantage in his home state.
“We’re talking about 1 million people in the state of Florida who are on a Medicare Advantage plan and would be essentially left out in the cold if they continue this assault on Medicare to the tune of a half a trillion dollars and an assault on Medicare Advantage to the tune of a $165 billion to $175 billion cut. That’s unacceptable for our seniors,” he said.
Putnam said bipartisan agreement on this point exists, especially among those from states who see Medicare’s popularity and realize its significance for seniors’ health.
“It’s important for all of us to stand together and move forward protecting Medicare, protecting people’s options and choices within that system, and recognizing the better outcomes that come from it,” he said.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said the bottom line is that she and her colleagues are certain that pulling  a half-trillion dollars from Medicare plans would be a “wrong step.”
“One thing that seems to get lost in this debate is that Medicare has been pre-paid by the seniors and by the enrollees in these plans,” Blackburn said.
“All their working lives, seniors have had that deduction funded out of their plan,” she added. “You know, the government basically has first right of refusal on those paychecks. So the seniors have paid into this. They have paid into the trust fund with the understanding by the government that when they retire, when they turn 65, that it is mandated that they enter Medicare. They don’t have a choice; it’s mandated that they enter Medicare. Then that money is going to be there to provide their health care,” Blackburn said. 
“It is inappropriate to reduce the funding for Medicare in order to pay for a new government program,” Blackburn said.
When asked if she thought a lesser amount of money could safely be extracted from Medicare, Blackburn responded, “No.”
“Medicare is a trust fund,” Blackburn point out. “If you’re going to achieve the savings through efficiencies, through different approaches to therapies, technologies, what you have to do is make certain that that money is held there in that trust fund, that it extends the life of the trust fund. I think if is fully inappropriate to take that money out of the trust fund and move it over to help start another federal program.  That money is the enrollees’ money.  It is not the federal government’s money to move to another program,” she said.
Putnam added: “According to trustees, it’s going to be an empty pot by the time I’m eligible to receive it.  So, you have a program that is on an unsustainable path today, they’re going to take half $1 trillion out of it.  That defies logic, that defies reason.  It’s poor public policy, it’s poor health care policy, and it’s certainly not good for the next generation of workers who are looking for some kind of healthcare security.”
Putnam said House Republicans are committed to bringing savings and eliminating waste and fraud from Medicare.
“Certainly we’ve seen examples of that, but we haven’t seen half a trillion dollars worth of it,” Putnam said. “So clearly everyone’s committed to eliminating waste and fraud and abuse in the system ---but $500 billion? That’s just not right.”
Blunt said if savings can be found in Medicare, they should go right back into Medicare.
“You should use those savings in Medicare to save Medicare,” he said. “You shouldn’t use those savings in Medicare to start some other plan that would be unfunded.”