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Confusion in Colorado over Obamacare

Buck lets Bennet off the hook.

4:27 PM, Oct 12, 2010 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Ever wonder why Republican challenger Ken Buck can't open up more of a lead against Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado? Bennet, the Democratic incumbent, was not elected by the people (he was appointed) and yet brazenly thought he could get away with voting for Obamacare in a GOP-leaning (if only slightly) state.  Based on the past three presidential elections, Colorado is 6 percentage points to the right of Wisconsin and 7 to the right of Pennsylvania, yet in those states the Republican is leading the Democrat by more than Buck is leading Bennet.  So why can't Buck build a bigger lead (Real Clear Politics currently has him up by just 4 points) in what should be a shoo-in state for the GOP this time around? 

Perhaps it's because he says things like this (during the candidates' debate last night in Pueblo), according to the Pueblo Chieftain:  

Buck charged that Bennet's television ads were dishonest, taking snippets of Buck's comments to portray him as wanting to privatize Social Security. Then he offered Bennet an olive branch of sorts, saying Bennet knew what it was like to be a target of distortions. 

"Republicans did it to you during the health care debate when they said you wanted to cut $500 billion out of Medicare," Buck offered. "It was wrong of the Republicans then and it's wrong of you to do it now." 

Bennet was pleased to hear it.

"I hope you'll call your friends who are pushing an ad accusing me of cutting $500 billion out of Medicare," he told Buck. "That $500 billion savings in Medicare is the very heart of the health care reform bill."

In truth, however, even $500 billion is a low-ball figure.  According to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections, Obamacare would cut spending on Medicare and related federal health care programs by $1.1 trillion over Obamacare's real first decade (2014 to 2023).  The tally of about $500 billion ($479 billion, to be more exact) is what Obamacare would siphon out of Medicare in just six years (2014 to 2019). 

To be clear, these Medicare cuts, or "savings," would be spent on Obamacare – not on making Medicare more solvent (or "stronger," as Andy Griffith asserts).  Most of these cuts would come in the form of lowering Medicare reimbursement rates for hospitals and hospices, and from reducing funding for Medicare Advantage. 

According to CBO projections, from 2014 to 2023 Obamacare would cut Medicare Advantage by about $25,000 for each of the 10 million seniors who are enrolled in that popular program.  Two weeks ago, the Boston Globe reported that Harvard Pilgrim Health Care “will drop its Medicare Advantage health insurance program at the end of the year, forcing 22,000 senior citizens in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine to seek alternative supplemental coverage.” A senior executive for the company said, “We became concerned by the long-term viability of Medicare Advantage programs in general.... We know that cuts in Medicare are being used to fund national health care reform.”

Likewise, Obamacare’s cuts (fancifully called "productivity adjustments") in Medicare hospital reimbursement rates would cause those rates to fall below even Medicaid reimbursement rates by the end of this decade.  The Medicare chief actuary writes, “roughly 20 percent of Part A [hospital] providers would become unprofitable within the 10-year projection period as a result of the productivity adjustments” and therefore “might end their participation in the [Medicare] program.”

If this is "the very heart of the health care reform bill," as Bennet asserts, one can see why it's so unpopular.

One wonders why Buck is letting Bennet, and Obamacare, off the hook. At least Buck is for repeal – he got a cheer from supporters when he said so during the debate – while Bennet stands by his pro-Obamacare vote.

Update: In response to this blog post, Ken Buck's press secretary told me that Buck agrees that $500 billion (and more) would be cut from Medicare to fund ObamaCare and that Buck is not confused on this point. He said that Buck was taking exception to Bennet's advertising, which he says is essentially all negative. He said Buck was saying that negative advertising is wrong (even, apparently, when it accurately highlights distinctions between the candidates, or flaws in the opponent's arguments), not that the claim that ObamaCare would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare was wrong.

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