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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. August 30, 2016

PAC ad say Bruce Poliquin voted to force seniors to pay more for prescription drugs

The political action committee End Citizens United has launched a multi-pronged attack ad against Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, accusing the businessman of making health care more costly for older Americans.

In a 30-second television commercial, the PAC says Poliquin voted for a Medicare proposal that would "force seniors to pay thousands more."

"He’d even force seniors to pay more for prescription drugs," the ad says.

Poliquin's office objected to the ad, saying in a news release, "Congressman Poliquin has been working to get prescription drug prices down, not up. That’s why he strongly supported Medicare coverage for prescription drugs for our seniors."

Who's right here?

Both sides are spinning the truth.

End Citizens United spokesman Adam Bozzi says the claim is a reference to Poliquin's March 25, 2015, vote for a Republican budget that called for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The measure passed the House, but it had no shot of passing the Senate and surviving the veto of President Barack Obama Obama.

The language of the ad itself if difficult to understand. We watched the ad several times and weren’t entirely sure if the ad said, "He’d even force seniors to pay …" or "He even forced seniors to pay …"  The wording difference might mislead voters as to what Poliquin did or hoped to do.

Either way, End Citizens United says a vote to repeal Obamacare is a vote to force seniors to pay more for drugs because repealing Obamacare would eliminate a fix to Medicare Part D known as the prescription drug doughnut hole.

Here's what they’re talking about.

In 2010, seniors had to pay full price for the first $310 worth of prescription drugs purchased. Between $310 and $2,830, insurance kicked in and Medicare paid 75 percent of the cost. But once the bill exceeded $2,830, seniors had to pay the full price of their drugs until the annual bill reached $4,550 (the doughnut hole). Then catastrophic insurance kicked in and insurance covered 95 percent of the cost. So the "hole" was the $1,720 gap between $2,830 and $4,550.

In 2006, 4 million seniors ended up paying full price for some of their prescriptions because of the gap.

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The health care law, passed in 2010, sought to shrink and eliminate that gap in coverage.

The gap is in the process of being phased out and will close completely in 2020. But even closing it gradually, combined with other features of Obamacare saved nearly 10.7 million seniors more than $20 billion on drug costs, according to a February 2016 estimate by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That's nearly $2,000 per senior since the law was enacted.

Repealing Obamacare would cost seniors in other ways, as we outlined two years ago.

Poliquin’s campaign argued that Poliquin actually voted against an attempt to repeal Obamacare in February 2015, because there was no plan to replace it. He voted for repeal the following month because the Republican budget had a better plan that would have kept traditional Medicare "as a plan option" for people in or near retirement but privatized part of the program.

There was another vote on repealing Obamacare on Jan. 6, 2016. Poliquin voted in favor of it. His spokesman, Michael Byerly, said that wasn't really a vote to repeal "as it technically only repealed the harmful taxes and provisions that have caused prices to go up."

But sponsor Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, opened debate on the measure by saying, "For the first time since the law was enacted, Congress is one vote away from sending a broad repeal of Obamacare to the president’s desk."

Byerly, Poliquin's spokesman, also argued that prescription drug prices have gone up because of Obamacare itself, referring us to a 2010 letter from the Congressional Budget Office predicting a 1 percent increase for established drugs. Democrats, in turn, have argued that Obamacare has kept health costs lower than they would have been without the legislation. As we've reported in the past, such arguments are debatable.

To sum it up, Poliquin never voted to raise drug prices directly. He voted to repeal the health care law -- a show vote that could have resulted in drug prices going up for Medicare recipients.

Our ruling

End Citizens United's ad says Poliquin voted to "force seniors to pay more for prescription drugs."

It gives the misleading impression that he voted on that specific issue when, in fact, he was voting to repeal the 2010 health care law.

If the repeal bill had become law — it didn’t — it would have removed provisions phasing out a prescription drug doughnut hole for Medicare recipients. 

End Citizens United’s claim is partially accurate but takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.

Our Sources

Emails, Adam Bozzi, spokesman, End Citizens United, Aug. 25-29, 2016

Emails, Michael Byerly, spokesman, Bruce Poliquin, Aug. 25-29, 2016

YouTube, "Wall Street Playbook," End Citizens United channel, Aug. 22, 2016

End Citizens United, "ME-02 TV Spot: "Wall Street Playbook," accessed Aug. 25, 2016

Bangor Daily News, "Poliquin defends votes on astere GOP budget bills, touts constitutional amendment," March 25, 2015

PolitiFact, "Health care bill will gobble up doughnut hole -- eventually," March 26, 2010 and "Tom Cotton says he wouldn't back changes for those on Medicare, but the ACA repeal he supports would," Oct. 16, 2014

Department of Health and Human Services news release, "Over 8.2 million seniors have saved more than $11.5 billion on prescription drugs since 2010," July 29, 2014

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, "More than 10 million people with Medicare have saved over $20 billion on prescription drugs since 2010," Feb. 8, 2016

Bloomberg, "House Republicans Seek Medicare Cuts That Senate Is Sure to Reject," March 17, 2015

PolitiFact, "Sen. Ron Johnson voted for Paul Ryan plans to make Medicare a voucher program, Democratic Party says," June 10, 2016 and "Gwen Moore says Obamacare created lowest-ever inflation in health care costs," Dec. 5, 2014

Congressional Budget Office, Letter to Paul Ryan on projected prescription drug prices, Nov. 4, 2010

Congressional Record, January 6, 2016, "Restoring Americans' Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015"

The Washington Times, "House votes to gut Obamacare through budget process," Oct. 23, 2015

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PAC ad say Bruce Poliquin voted to force seniors to pay more for prescription drugs

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