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STORY UPDATED: NY21: Doheny absent from lively Medicare debate

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UPDATE: After this story was published on Wednesday morning, Matt Doheny released his ideas for changes to Medicare. Those can be found at
his website.

NCPR requested another interview with Doheny, now that his policy has been made public. His campaign responded, "No."
Medicare has become a central issue in Senate and Congressional races this year, especially since Republican Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. Medicare covers more than 40 million seniors, and nearly 9 million people with disabilities nationwide.

Paul Ryan is head of the House Budget Committee, and wrote a plan to dramatically restructure the program. President Obama's health care law also makes big changes to it.

In the 21st District Congressional race, political ads on both sides have focused on the issue. But parsing the truth from campaign rhetoric can take a fine-toothed comb--especially because Republican candidate Matt Doheny still refuses to talk about Medicare.

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Reported by

Julie Grant
Reporter and Producer

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Over the past week, the National Republican Congressional Committee released a television attack ad. It tells people the hard-earned money they’ve paid into Medicare through the years is about to be funneled into the new health care law: “You did your part,” the ad says, “but now Barack Obama is gutting $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. And Bill Owens is helping him do it. Bill Owens repeatedly voted to keep Obama’s raid on Medicare. That money belongs to you.”

Claims like this, that Obamacare raids Medicare of $500 billion, or $716 billion, have been bandied about a lot this campaign season. Democrat Bill Owens says he’s not surprised by the attack: “This is the tactic they’ve been using for well over a year and a half, so to see that is not a surprise. To see them come forward with an ad that completely misrepresents the facts.”

The Pulitzer Prize winning news organization Politifact looks into the truthfulness of political statements. It looked into the claim that the new health care law cuts $716 billion from Medicare, and found that it does not. But the law does make changes.

Owens says they are not aimed at people who benefit from Medicare—only at insurance companies and hospitals. “This – quote – ‘reduction’ is really, simply a reduction in reimbursements to doctors and hospitals. So there is no reduction to beneficiaries. This is a flat out and out misrepresentation.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which is responsible for that ad against Owens, works to maintain and increase the Republican majority in the House. Nat Sillin is a spokesman for the NRCC. He says the numbers come from the Congressional Budget Office, which calculates the budgetary implications of legislation: “We stand by our claim that Obamacare cuts $716 million from Medicare to pay for it. And I think people can make an independent determination on their own. And I encourage them to look at the Congressional Budget Office report.”

Politifact rates the claim a half-truth – saying it needs more explanation to be accurate.

Meanwhile, Democrats are doing some attacking of their own on Medicare. Here’s former President Bill Clinton at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month, talking about the plan engineered by Republican Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, to reduce Medicare costs: “That $716 billion is exactly, to the dollar, the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget. You got give one thing, it takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.”

The Ryan plan would change Medicare by giving beneficiaries voucher-like credits to buy traditional Medicare, or competing private insurance plans. According to Politifact, Congressman Ryan has confirmed that his budget includes the same Medicare cuts as President Obama’s plan. 

But Nat Sillin at the National Republican Congressional Committee says there is a key difference: “The clear difference, in Obamacare the money is taken out and used to pay for a new program outside of Medicare. What Ryan does is takes that money and uses it to extend the life span of Medicare.”

Still, Politifact rates President Clinton’s statement as true – the Ryan budget does include the same cuts to Medicare as the health care law. And Congressman Owens is using that idea to attack his Republican opponent in television ads:

“I’m Bill Owens and I approve this message. Matt Doheny is the one who wants to who wants to end Medicare. Matt Doheny said the Ryan budget, the one that essentially ends Medicare didn’t go far enough.”

North Country Now reported about Matt Doheny’s views on Paul Ryan’s budget last March, when it was passed by the Republican-led House. Doheny said it “doesn’t produce a balanced budget for decades – and that simply won’t work under our current climate.”

Nat Sillin at the NRCC says he “can’t speak” for Matt Doheny on Medicare, but “I would encourage you to reach out to Matt Doheny and ask him what his positions are.”

In response to requests for an interview on Medicare, a Doheny spokesman emailed to say “We’re going to pass.”

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