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COMMENTARY: Seniors deserve the truth about Democrats’ plan to cut Medicare

“Congress is considering a bill that will strip $300 billion from Medicare — money seniors rely on for their medicine, their treatments, their cures.” That’s the key claim in a series of advertisements running across Nevada and sponsored by the American Prosperity Alliance.

Is the accusation true? Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto says no. She recently condemned such ads as “deliberately misleading” and defended the bill in question — a rebranded version of Democrats’ sprawling Build Back Better package that’s now dubbed the “Inflation Reduction Act.” The Senate recently passed the bill, and a House vote is expected in the coming days.

But Sen. Cortez Masto is the one who is misleading people.

As the president of one of the largest senior citizen advocacy groups in the nation, my organization has issued very similar warnings about this legislation, because voters deserve to know the truth — this bill really will slash Medicare spending and lead to far worse care for the 565,000 Nevadans — and tens of millions of Americans — who depend on the program.

First, some background.

The legislation would empower federal officials to arbitrarily set lower drug prices. It would also delay a rule, finalized in the waning days of the Trump administration, that would force insurers that administer Medicare drug plans to use the discounts they receive from drugmakers to reduce seniors’ copays and coinsurance payments.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. Compared to current law, the Inflation Reduction Act’s prescription drug provisions are expected to reduce the amount that the government allocates to Medicare by close to $300 billion over the next decade — $288 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Washington’s official (though not always accurate) scorekeeper on budget matters.

Proponents of the bill claim that these spending reductions amount to “savings.” But when Congress passes legislation that causes Washington to spend $300 billion less than it was going to otherwise spend on Medicare, it’s more than fair to describe that as a $300 billion “cut” to Medicare.

Let’s be blunt: When Republicans try to reduce federal deficits through spending reductions, Democrats such as Sen. Cortez Masto hit the ramparts to denounce spending cuts. Here’s how she herself described the sought-after “savings” in a failed 2017 Republican proposal: It “makes devastating cuts to the health coverage Nevadans rely on.”

Democrats just don’t like it when their own proposals, meeting exactly the same budget criteria, come in for exactly the same criticism.

There is zero question that these price controls will deter companies from investing in drug development and thus reduce the number of treatments available to American seniors in the years ahead. The question is simply how many medicines will never come to market.

The CBO projects that patients would lose out on seven treatments over the coming two decades if these price controls took effect. Economists at the University of Chicago say that figure is far too optimistic — and that the legislation would actually prevent the creation of 135 medicines by 2039.

American seniors will bear the brunt of this slowdown in medical innovation — for the simple and obvious reason that older Americans tend to need more medical care. In pre-pandemic 2019, 85 percent of people over 60 took a prescription medication within the previous 30 days, compared to 47 percent of those aged 20-59.

Simply put, Senate Democrats just voted to cut Medicare spending by roughly $300 billion. And these cuts will reduce the number of medicines available to seniors in the coming years.

Of course, Sen. Cortez Masto and other supporters of the bill would prefer that nobody state these facts plainly. But America’s seniors deserve to know the truth.

Saul Anuzis is president of 60 Plus, the American Association of Senior Citizens.

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