In it, but not of it. TPM DC
"Among the things that the president's health care law does is it cuts Medicare Advantage. Now it would be one thing if the savings that were taking from Medicare Advantage were put back into the trust fund -- because as we mentioned, the trust fund is running out of money," the U.S. congressman told constituents at a town hall. "So if they take in the savings of that and put it back in the trust fund, I'm OK with that. Actually, I voted to do that at one point."
Cassidy's remarks were unusually honest in that he admitted he voted for the same Medicare Advantage cuts his own party leaders are attacking as deeply damaging to the one-third of Medicare beneficiaries the program covers. By contrast, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and a swath of other Republicans have been bashing those cuts even though nearly all GOP lawmakers voted to make the same cuts permanent in Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budgets proposals.
But Cassidy's related attack on the use of the savings reflects a common misunderstanding of how Medicare's trust fund actually works. "You've paid into the Medicare trust fund, the money should be for you," he said. "If there are savings to be achieved, put it back in to extend the life of the trust fund."
The implication is that Democrats cut Medicare to pay for Obamacare, while the GOP budget used the funds to strengthen the life of Medicare. The reality is less simple. In fact, both Obamacare and the GOP budget extend the solvency of Medicare by eight years through 2024. The reimbursement cuts mean the federal government pays fewer dollars to insurers, hospitals and other providers under Medicare, which means the trust fund stays solvent for longer. But, crucially, Medicare spending is mandatory, which means even if the trust fund dips into the red, federal law requires the program to continue meeting its obligations, financed by general federal revenues or borrowing.
To the extent that Obamacare cut Medicare to fund more health care spending, it's equally arguable that the GOP budget would cut Medicare to fund its tax cuts. But both gloss over the fact that the Medicare savings are ultimately bipartisan and the repeated "Mediscare" skirmishes over the reimbursement reforms in Obamacare reflect little more than election-year opportunism.
Cassidy is hoping to capture the Republican nomination and unseat three-term Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) in the November election.
Photo credit: Bill Cassidy's Facebook page