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Fact Checker: Patty Judge claims Grassley would reduce women's health services, raise Medicare costs

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Introduction

“If you get your way and defund Planned Parenthood, where am I going to get my cancer screenings?”

“If I’m paying more for medicine because your Medicare plan passes, how do I afford that?”

Source of claim: These questions are posed to a cardboard cutout of U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley in an ad from Grassley’s Democratic challenger, Patty Judge.

Analysis

The TV advertisement, titled “Questions,” features a handful of inquiries being lobbed at the 35-year U.S. senator.

Two of the questions refer to Grassley’s stances on Planned Parenthood and Medicare. As a source for those claims, Judge’s campaign shared a fact sheet identifying the votes and statements made by Grassley.

First, we’ll examine the claim that Grassley wants to defund Planned Parenthood, and the implication that defunding the reproductive services provider would limit access to cancer screenings.

In August 2015, Grassley voted to limit debate on Senate Bill 1881. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, would have prohibited federal funding of Planned Parenthood or its affiliates, according to the text of the bill.

According to Planned Parenthood’s website, its clinics provide cancer screening and prevention services.

During a statement made on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Aug. 3, Ernst said the bill still would protect federal funding for women’s health services, “such as prenatal and postpartum care, cervical and breast cancer screenings, diagnostic laboratory and radiology services,” and would redirect funding that had been going to Planned Parenthood to other providers, including community health centers and hospitals.

The bill was introduced as secret recordings of a Planned Parenthood executive were released. The videos, which since have been shown to be heavily edited, appeared to show the executive discussing selling fetal tissue for profit.

The motion to limit debate was defeated, and the bill did not become law.

Next, we’ll look at the claim Grassley supports a Medicare plan that could cause medicine costs to increase.

The Judge camp pointed the Fact Checker team to Grassley’s vote for a motion to proceed with the House’s Republican budget in May 2011. Congressional records show Grassley did vote “yea” on the Senate’s motion to consider the plan developed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The House budget, which did not pass the Senate, included a plan to reshape Medicare by giving seniors 65 and older a set amount to spend on private health insurance instead of guaranteeing health coverage, the Los Angeles Times reported in May 2011.

Switching to that model would lead to uncertainty about seniors’ out-of-pocket costs, said Brad Wright, assistant professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa.

“If you switch over to a voucher, you’re basically limiting what the government is going to pay,” Wright said. “It’s essentially saying, once that money is out, then you’re on the hook for the rest.”

Many concerns about the plan were tied to uncertainty about how the value of the voucher would be set, Wright said.

“If the price of private insurance greatly outpaces inflation — if that’s how they tie it — then over time the voucher becomes worth less and less,” he said.

Conclusion

While it’s true Grassley has supported bills that would overhaul Medicare and defund Planned Parenthood, the assertion that those votes would cause increases in patients’ out-of-pocket costs and reduce the availability of cancer screenings for women are shakier claims.

Although Grassley did vote to defund Planned Parenthood, the bill he supported would have redirected funding for women’s health services to other providers. Because the bill protected the level of funding of health services — and the bill’s sponsor, Ernst, specified that cancer screenings would remain available at hospitals and community health centers — this claim is misleading at best.

And while Grassley supported Ryan’s efforts to turn Medicare into a voucher system — which could have increased out-of-pocket costs — the claim that the plan belonged to Grassley also is exaggerated. The plan was led by Ryan and created in the House, not the Senate.

Because of the nature of Judge’s ad — with Iowans posing questions to Grassley, instead of stating the senator’s positions — the claims are too vague to be entirely accurate. Both the implications of these claims are misleading, but the Grassley positions to which they refer are accurate. Because these two claims are not specific enough to be entirely true, we rate this ad a B.

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/office holder or a national candidate/office holder about Iowa, or in advertisements that appear in our market. Claims must be independently verifiable. We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Molly Duffy.

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