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Presidential debate 101: Is Romney right about $716 billion in Medicare cuts?

In Wednesday's presidential debate, the GOP's Mitt Romney cited ill effects from $716 billion in cuts to Medicare contained in Obama's health-care reform law. Here's a look at what fact-checkers say.

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The next slice of the chart shows 30.2 percent of the cuts coming from Medicare Advantage payments, which addresses Romney's debate-night claim that 4 million people will lose Medicare Advantage under the Affordable Care Act. This is the often-mentioned scale-back of payments to private insurers. 

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The Post and PolitiFact both point out that Medicare Advantage, a program in which the government pays for seniors to have private health insurance, on average costs more than private insurance, rather than keeping costs low. The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare reports that, on average, the US government pays 14 percent more per beneficiary per year for seniors in the Medicare Advantage program. It says payments to Medicare Advantage will not be eliminated entirely, but reduced gradually to bring them more in line with traditional Medicare.

The last third of the cuts, 35 percent, the Washington Post labels "everything else." 

The Kaiser Family Foundation elaborates. "Other Medicare spending reductions include $39 billion less for skilled nursing services, $66 billion less for home health, and $17 billion less for hospice." The website points to additional benefits the Affordable Care Act will provide, such as an increase in prescription drug coverage.

Perhaps Mother Jones sums it up best with its quick Q&A on the $716 billion in cuts.

Are America's seniors getting the short end of the stick? "No probably not," it says; hospitals and insurance companies are. But does that mean Medicare beneficiares have nothing to worry about? 

"It's possible that the cuts to providers could lead to slight cuts in quality or even, via some unintended backdoor mechanism, to some doctors dropping out of Medicare," Mother Jones writes. "And the cuts to Medicare Advantage might prompt insurance companies to reduce some of the extra benefits they've provided." However, it cautions, all predictions at this point are speculative. 

In the end, Obama really is cutting $716 billion from Medicare, that's true. While the long-term effects of the cuts will benefit seniors by extending the life of Medicare, the effects on a doctor-by-doctor, hospital-by-hospital level are unpredictable.

As Mother Jones puts it, "There's no way to cut a bunch of money out of anything and guarantee that it will have no effect whatsoever."  

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