Column: Separating fact from fiction

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl<br>
R-Arizona

U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl<br> R-Arizona

Many seniors recently received a brochure from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about Medicare and the new healthcare law. The pamphlet purports to provide "accurate information about the new services and benefits to help you and your family now and in the future."

In reality, the brochure is a public relations effort by the administration to change the American people's minds about the new healthcare law. A recent Rasmussen poll found that 58 percent of Americans support repeal of the law - a view that has held relatively steady since President Obama signed the bill into law.

Americans, particularly seniors, have legitimate and real concerns about the law. Here are the facts about the statements made in the brochure:

What the brochure says: "These are needed improvements that will keep Medicare strong and solvent."

The facts: The law raids Medicare by over half a trillion dollars to pay for a new premium subsidy program that has nothing to do with Medicare. The government cannot simultaneously claim credit for enhancing Medicare's solvency while financing a new entitlement program with the same money. It's double-counting, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

What the brochure says: "Your guaranteed Medicare benefits won't change - whether you get them through Original Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan."

The facts: Seniors' benefits will change. The law guts supplemental Medicare plans known as Medicare Advantage by $202 billion over 10 years - meaning higher premiums, less benefits, and fewer plan choices for seniors. The CBO estimates that the extra benefits currently provided by MA plans will be cut in half.

Similarly, Medicare's chief actuary - the individual who estimates the impact on premiums and benefits - concluded that the MA cuts will "result in less generous benefit packages."

What the brochure says: "Your choice of doctor will be preserved."

The facts: The law fails to address inadequate physician reimbursement rates that threaten to push doctors out of Medicare. As many as 73 percent of doctors are opting to stop taking new Medicare patients as a result of the low reimbursement rates, while others have stopped seeing Medicare patients altogether, according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, Medicare's chief actuary concluded that 15 percent of hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospices and home health agencies may have to close in the next decade due to the Medicare cuts in the law.

What the brochure says: "If you enter the Part D "donut hole" this year, you will receive a one-time, $250 rebate check if you are not already receiving Medicare Extra Help."

The facts: Most seniors are not eligible for the rebate check. Earlier this month, Obama acknowledged that only four million elderly and disabled individuals - that's fewer than one in 10 Medicare beneficiaries - will receive a $250 check. Moreover, the CBO estimates that seniors will pay higher premiums for prescription drug coverage as a result of the new law.

Throughout the long process of passing healthcare reform, the administration constantly sought not just to control the message but to suppress and bully others from speaking the facts. There was the short-lived effort to encourage Americans to send "fishy" e-mails about healthcare reform to a White House e-mail address. And, then there was the gag order that prohibited Medicare Advantage providers from alerting their customers about potential changes in their coverage.

Seniors shouldn't be duped by this latest propaganda. Unfortunately, their coverage will change for the worse unless we repeal the healthcare law and replace it with commonsense, market-oriented solutions to increase access and bring down the cost of healthcare.