In a debate with Democratic opponent Mazie Hirono on Tuesday, Republican Linda Lingle criticized President Barack Obama’s health care law for its impact on Medicare spending.

“[The Affordable Care Act] has some parts of it that are not good for the people of Hawaii,” she said. “It takes $716 billion from Medicare over time in order to pay new benefits under Obamacare. That’s just not a good idea. Medicare is already weak, needs to be strengthened. This would make the situation worse for Hawaii’s seniors.”

That figure — $716 billion — has become a common talking point this election, most notably with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In the first presidential debate, Romney said Obamacare takes $716 billion out of Medicare, hurting the elderly. Obama responded by saying that the money would have benefited insurance companies and providers rather than seniors.

Who’s right? Was Lingle correct to say that the Affordable Care Act hurts the elderly by taking hundreds of billions from Medicare?

Because the Affordable Care Act may be reconsidered by the next Congress and control of the Senate could be the key factor in the future of the program, Lingle’s and Hirono’s positions on the issue are significant. And given each candidate’s repeated attempts to appeal to Hawaii’s kupuna this election, the issue is particularly relevant.

According to a July estimate from the Congressional Budget Office, repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase Medicare spending by $716 billion between 2013 and 2022. This estimate includes $260 billion for hospitals and $156 billion for private insurance companies.

To be clear, the law does not take money out of the current Medicare budget — it reduces future spending. According to analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicare spending was expected to grow at a rate of 6.8 percent per year between 2010 and 2019, and the Affordable Care Act decreases that growth rate to 5.6 percent. Part of the intent of the health reform law is to curtail the rising cost of the Medicare program. By slowing the growth of the program’s costs, Obamacare improves Medicare’s solvency.

It’s also important to note that the $716 billion decreases spending for hospitals, health providers and insurance companies, but does not decrease patient benefits. In fact, patients will receive the same benefits and more under Obamacare. However, some critics argue that decreasing the amount paid to providers will negatively affect seniors in the long run, because there will be less incentive to provide care.

Analysis of the Affordable Care Act by FactCheck.org, a nonpartisan fact-checking service, concludes that the law won’t have a negative direct effect on seniors. Neither, it says, will the Romney-Ryan plan. The organization also says that Obamacare helps the Medicare budget.

Given the use of the “$716 billion” figure on the national stage, a number of national news outlets and stand-alone fact-checkers have investigated it, with varying conclusions.

PolitiFact, the fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times, gave Romney’s assertions on the topic ratings of “Half True” and “Mostly False” depending on the phrasing.

The New York Times described Romney’s statements about the $716 billion cut from Medicare as a false and “debunked” claim. In contrast, the Washington Post concluded that his claim is true, while noting that the fiscal cuts don’t affect Medicare benefits to patients and that the same cuts are outlined in the budget proposed by Paul Ryan, the Republican party’s vice-presidential nominee. Another Washington Post fact-checker concluded that Obamacare strengthens Medicare and doesn’t hurt seniors.

BOTTOM LINE: Lingle said that the Affordable Care Act “takes $716 billion from Medicare over time” and by doing so will negatively affect seniors. She also said that will weaken the Medicare program. While Obamacare decreases future Medicare spending by $716 billion, “takes” isn’t the best word to describe what’s happening because the money doesn’t literally go from the Medicare budget to the Obamacare budget. Rather, it’s a reduction in future spending — cost savings. That reduction strengthens Medicare by making the program more solvent, ensuring that it will last longer. The change in spending also has no direct effect on the benefits that seniors receive. Because one part of the claim can be supported, but it also contains significant false and misleading information, Civil Beat finds Lingle’s statement to be MOSTLY FALSE.

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