In a new campaign ad, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Bob Casey attacks his opponent, Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta for his vote seven years ago to restructure the Medicare program. Barletta's campaign says the ad is repeating a proven lie.
And they have a point, at least in part.
The ad focuses on the 2011 plan by then-House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. The plan would have drastically altered Medicare, giving future retirees government allotments to buy their own insurance in private insurance markets.
The on-screen text of the ad says "Congressman Lou Barletta voted to end Medicare."
Barletta campaign communications director Matt Beynon said that's a whopper.
"Politifact, the independent face-checker called this the 'Lie of Year' in 2011," Beynon said.
Politifact found the Ryan plan would maintain some government support for senior health care. So, saying it would "end Medicare" goes too far.
But while the on-screen text in the Casey ad is problematic, the announcer's voice-over in the ad is a little different. It qualifies the critique by saying Barletta supported a plan that would have ended "Medicare as we know it."
Politifact says that's different claim.
Politifact's "Lie of the Year" article acknowledged that the Ryan plan would make big changes to Medicare. It called Democrats out for exaggerating the effect by saying it would terminate the Medicare program entirely.
In 2012, Politifact published a piece criticizing Republicans for exaggerating the group's critique. Politifact never said it was false to claim the Ryan plan would "end the Medicare guarantee" or end Medicare "as we know it."
Editor Angie Drobnic Holan, who wrote the story about the Ryan plan, said Politifact found a wide range of opinions among experts on how to characterize the effect of the Ryan plan.
"Politifact actually decided not to rate the claim that the Ryan plan ends Medicare as we know it," Holan said, "because we thought saying it ends Medicare as we know it was ultimately a subjective opinion," she said.
The Casey ad also said the Ryan plan would have required seniors to pay another $6,400 a year for health care, forcing them into terrible choices.
"How would they manage?" an announcer asks in the ad. "Eat less? Skip prescription drugs? Turn out the lights?"
Politifact never addressed the accuracy of the $6,400 figure, but it noted that the Congressional Budget Office found the plan "would save the government money...by asking future Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for the same benefits."
Underlying the scrap is a genuine policy difference: Barletta's more inclined to trust competition among private providers to lower costs and serve seniors.
Casey likes the direct, single-payer structure of the current Medicare system.
"Bob Casey believes in a Washington-based, top-down government," said Barletta communications director Matt Benyon. "Lou Barletta wants to give seniors and all Pennsylvanians the opportunity to have more choice in these important decisions."
Casey spokesman Max Steele said Barletta hasn't criticized moves of the Trump administration to remove protections in the Affordable Care Act.
"I think there's a clear contrast in this race, and that's something we look forward to discussing with voters," Steele said.
The Ryan plan never got through Congress.