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Fact check: Sen. Rick Scott keeps repeating a debunked claim about Biden and Medicare

<i>Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images</i><br/>Sen. Rick Scott listens during a news conference at the Capitol Building on January 25 in Washington.
Getty Images
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Sen. Rick Scott listens during a news conference at the Capitol Building on January 25 in Washington.

By Daniel Dale, CNN

Just before President Joe Biden’s visit to Florida on Thursday, one of the state’s Republican senators, Rick Scott, repeated a false claim about Biden and Medicare — a claim that was debunked by multiple news outlets when Scott and a Scott-chaired Republican organization uttered it during the 2022 midterm campaign.

Scott made the claim both in an interview with “CNN This Morning” co-anchor Kaitlan Collins on Thursday morning and in a television ad he released online on Wednesday. The ad came out the morning after Biden used part of his State of the Union address to warn Americans about Scott’s proposal to require “all” federal laws, which would include Medicare, to expire after five years if they are not renewed by Congress; Biden repeated this warning in a speech in Tampa on Thursday.

Scott, who says he does not want to cut Medicare, tried to turn the tables on Biden by beginning the ad with an accusation: “Joe Biden just cut $280 billion from Medicare.” On “CNN This Morning” on Thursday, Scott said, “Let’s remember — just, what, a few months ago, all Democrats voted, and Joe Biden signed a bill, to cut $280 billion out of Medicare.”

Collins immediately and repeatedly challenged Scott with the facts. Scott refused to budge. But Collins was correct: this claim about Democrats having supposedly cut Medicare is highly deceptive.

Facts First: While Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act is expected to reduce Medicare prescription drug spending by the federal government — by $237 billion over a decade, according to the most recent Congressional Budget Office estimate — that’s because the law will allow the government to spend less to buy drugs from pharmaceutical companies, not because the law will cut benefits to seniors enrolled in Medicare. The law actually makes Medicare’s prescription drug program more generous to seniors while also saving them money.

Experts reject Scott’s claim

CNN, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and various other outlets fact-checked versions of the claim when it was wielded against Democrats last year by Scott and in ads from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, for which Scott served as chairman at the time.

Stacie Dusetzina, professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, called Scott’s claim “very misleading.” She told CNN on Wednesday that the assessment she offered in the fall still stands: “Essentially, the Inflation Reduction Act improves access to prescription drugs for Medicare beneficiaries by lowering what Medicare pays for prescription drugs. Framing this as a ‘cut’ to benefits is nonsense.”

Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that studies health policy, also rejected Scott’s claim. She said in an email on Wednesday: “CBO said that the prescription drug provisions in the law will reduce the federal deficit by $237 billion,” down from an earlier estimate that Scott appeared to be citing with his “$280 billion” figure. “This is savings to the federal government and Medicare from lowering what Medicare pays for prescription drugs. This is not the same thing as a $237 billion cut to Medicare.”

And Cubanski explained in the fall: “In fact, the law actually improved Medicare’s drug benefit by tackling high drug prices, a longstanding concern for people with Medicare, and capping what Medicare beneficiaries pay out of pocket for prescription drugs, along with other drug benefit improvements, like free vaccines and capping insulin copays.”

As Collins pointed out to Scott on Thursday, AARP, an organization that advocates for seniors, also dismisses the claim that the Inflation Reduction Act cuts Medicare. AARP told CNN in an email on Thursday that, as fact-checkers have found, “claims that the Inflation Reduction Act cuts funding to Medicare are simply false” and that “over 10 years, the Inflation Reduction Act will save Medicare and American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars by standing up to big drug companies’ excessive prices.”

AARP added: “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the Medicare drug price negotiation provisions will save the program hundreds of billions of dollars, not cut it. Regardless of the exact dollar amount, this represents savings for the Medicare program and taxpayers.”

How the law reduces prescription drug spending

Cubanski explained that the Inflation Reduction Act’s projected prescription drug savings of $237 billion will largely come from three particular provisions. None of these provisions cuts Medicare benefits.

One provision allows the federal government, starting in 2026, to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over the prices of certain high-cost drugs for Medicare. Another requires the drug companies to pay rebates to Medicare if the price of certain drugs rises faster than inflation. A third provision delays, until 2032, the implementation of a Trump administration rule that had never taken effect and already been postponed until 2027. That rule, which would have effectively banned rebates from drug companies to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, had been expected not only to increase Medicare spending but to force Medicare beneficiaries to pay higher premiums.

So, again, not even the cost-saving parts of the law are Medicare cuts. And then there are the additional provisions Cubanski mentioned above, which will add expenditures to the government but save seniors money — such as the new $35-per-month cap on out-of-pocket spending on insulin and a new $2,000-per-year cap, starting in 2025, on out-of-pocket prescription drug spending in Medicare Part D.

Scott’s baseless criticism of CNN

On Thursday, while trying to defend his baseless claim about Biden having cut Medicare, Scott repeatedly brought up something different. Scott noted that CNN anchor Jake Tapper pointed out in early 2017 that the Congressional Budget Office had found that the health care bill that House Republicans just passed at the time would have cut more than $800 billion in federal funding from Medicaid if it became law (it never did).

Scott said: “So CNN says it’s not a cut if Democrats do it, it is a cut if Republicans do it.”

But this suggestion of hypocrisy or bias is baseless, too. The 2017 situation and the 2022 situation are nothing alike.

Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 saves the government money by allowing Medicare to procure prescription drugs for less money. That’s a cost reduction that doesn’t reduce benefits to Americans.

Conversely, when the Republican bill of 2017 proposed to save money by sharply reducing federal funding for Medicaid, compared to expected federal funding under existing law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill becoming law would have resulted in 14 million fewer people being enrolled in Medicaid by 2026 than would have been enrolled if existing law wasn’t changed.

In other words, the Republican bill of 2017 included a “cut” to Medicaid because that bill would have lowered federal spending on the program in a way that would have reduced Americans’ Medicaid benefits. The Democratic law of 2022 doesn’t include a “cut” to Medicare because that law lowers the program’s prescription drug spending while not touching Americans’ Medicare benefits — and, in fact, while enhancing those benefits.

Scott’s Senate office and campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

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