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CD 8: MORE MEDICARE LIES

Citizens United is the latest super-PAC to wade into the June 12 special election between Democrat Ron Barber and Republican Jesse Kelly to complete Gabrielle Giffords' term.

Citizens United is spending $100,000 to run TV ads targeting Barber over cuts to Medicare Advantage in the Affordable Care Act, aka ObamaCare.

The ad, which features an image of a sad elderly patient in a hospital bed, focuses on the same claims that we've already discussed in recent weeks about the "$500 billion in cuts" to Medicare under the Affordable Care Act.

Those claims have been repeatedly rated as "false" by PolitiFact and "misleading" by FactCheck.org, but they've been recycled repeatedly by GOP political operatives since the 2010 midterm elections.

The Citizens United ad focuses attention on $130 billion in planned reductions in future expenses for the Medicare Advantage program, which uses private insurers to provide coverage to seniors, rather than the traditional Medicare program.

"ObamaCare will gut the Medicare Advantage program," the narrator says. "Jesse Kelly will save Medicare Advantage."

A little bit of background on Medicare Advantage: About a quarter of seniors across the country are now enrolled in Medicare Advantage, which was an experiment in seeing how the private sector could help hold Medicare costs down while providing better service for seniors.

While it has succeeded in providing, in some cases, better health-care benefits (such as gym memberships and plans for vision and dental care), it has failed in keeping costs down. On average, Medicare Advantage costs about 14 percent more than traditional Medicare on a per-capita basis, according to Kaiser Health News.

The Affordable Care Act, as part of its effort to slow the growth of Medicare costs, introduces a variety of reforms for insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans to bring costs in line with traditional Medicare.

Republicans and their allies have hammered Democrats on those cuts, as in the Citizens United ad that accuses Barber of supporting a law that "guts" Medicare Advantage.

Whether the Affordable Care Act guts Medicare Advantage is a matter of opinion, but an April Associated Press article noted that this year, premiums are down about 7 percent, while enrollment has climbed nearly 10 percent. And FactCheck.org notes that Medicare Advantage patients "will likely see some of their extra benefits cut and may drop out of the program entirely. But they would still retain the basic benefits to which all current Medicare recipients are entitled."

FactCheck.org also reports that the Affordable Care Act provides improved benefits for Medicare recipients: "For instance, beneficiaries will be able to get free preventative care, and the new law will close the 'doughnut hole,' a gap in Medicare's prescription-drug coverage that currently affects some seniors. Hardly a 'gutting' of the Medicare program."

Barber says he supports reducing the "overpayment" that has been going to insurance companies through Medicare Advantage.

"That's not a cut in service," Barber says. "That's an overpayment that's going to be corrected over time."

The Skinny has not been able to figure out what the GOP's alternative to reducing the cost of Medicare Advantage is. Kelly, who refuses to do one-on-one interviews with the Tucson Weekly or the Arizona Daily Star, appears to be out of his depth when discussing policy matters.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato, who is helping Kelly's campaign, has been critical of the Medicare Advantage cuts, but said via email that he was not the right guy to discuss GOP policy issues.

But the House Republicans have offered a glimpse into the long-term future of Medicare via a budget proposal by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan: Give seniors vouchers so they can purchase private insurance. Given that the Medicare Advantage experiment into privatizing Medicare has resulted a higher cost per patient, you might be skeptical about how well that would work.

By the way, here's an insight into how serious the GOP is about restoring that $500 billion in future reductions in Medicare: On Thursday, May 10—just two weeks ago—the House took a vote to alter a budget deal that was crafted as part of the big debt-ceiling debacle. Republicans passed on the opportunity to restore the Medicare funding cuts, just as they did when they voted on the Ryan budget in March 2012.


HOT AIR

The Citizens United Medicare ad was yet another moment in a GOP campaign that has been basically a paint-by-the-numbers negative campaign against Democrat Ron Barber.

Republican Jesse Kelly's campaign—helped by the NRCC—remained on script last week by unveiling a new ad attacking Barber for supporting cap-and-trade legislation.

Cap-and-trade hasn't been in the news, mostly because at the moment, there is no cap-and-trade legislation pending the U.S. House of Representatives. The idea of finding a market-based method of lowering greenhouse-gas emissions in order to slow climate change is a dead issue.

But that hasn't stopped Kelly from announcing that Barber supports the nonexistent legislation. The ad claims Barber's support of cap-and-trade would "increase energy costs by almost $1,000 per Arizona family and cost up to 40,000 jobs here."

Rodd McLeod, a spokesman for the Barber campaign, points out that cap-and-trade failed to pass Congress years ago, "so it's not affecting energy costs."

And, he adds, "Ron Barber wasn't in Congress three years ago," McLeod says. "Ron Barber never supported cap-and-trade."


THE RETURN OF THE FAIR TAX

Democrat Ron Barber unveiled a new attack ad of his own last week, going after Republican Jesse Kelly for his previous support of the so-called FairTax, which would institute a new federal sales tax of 23 percent on all goods and services to replace the income-tax system. (As we've explained in the past, the FairTax rate would actually be 30 percent if you use the traditional method of figuring the rate of a sales tax; see "Fair or Unfair?" The Skinny, May 3.)

We mentioned Kelly's support of the Fair Tax during his 2010 campaign in our recent cover story on the CD 8 race. (See "Barber vs. Kelly," April 26.)

John Ellinwood, a spokesman for the Kelly campaign, then took issue with the claim that Kelly had supported the FairTax. While Kelly has frequently stated that he prefers a 10 percent national flat income tax, he expressed his support for the FairTax as an alternative on multiple occasions during the 2010 campaign.

Kelly has been all over the map when talking tax policy and has declined offers from the Tucson Weekly to explain his contradictory positions. But one of his primary calls has been for a 10 percent flat tax, because "if 10 percent is good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for the federal government."

Kelly hasn't explained any details about this flat tax, such as whether homeowners would still be able to deduct mortgage interest. But he has said that under his plan, many deductions would go away, because they would no longer be necessary. (That appears to be in conflict with Kelly's promise to provide new tax deductions for the purchase of health-care insurance.)

Kelly has also declined to clarify whether the flat tax would include Social Security and Medicare taxes. Asked about that at a press conference, Kelly said simply: "A simple 10 percent flat tax will take care of that."

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