Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Republicans Deny They Plan to End Medicare

Recently the U.S. House of Representatives passed a measure that would drastically change the Medicare program. The measure, part of a budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, passed with the votes of all but four Republicans and not one Democrat.

Now the Democratic Congressional Committee is running an ad in selected congressional against Republican congress members thought to be vulnerable. The ad, which portrays seniors having to work at odd jobs to pay for their medical care, includes the line, “Congressman [name] voted to end Medicare forcing seniors to pay $12,500 for private health insurance, without guaranteed coverage.”

A spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee calls the ad “shameless scare tactics” on the part of Democrats. In particular, they say they are not ending Medicare, put reforming it to save it.

Who is telling the truth? It’s important for voters to understand this issue, which may dominate next year’s elections. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 78 percent of Americans are opposed to cutting Medicare. For more than 40 years American seniors have relied on Medicare for their essential, and often expensive, health care needs. For example, the deadly lung cancer mesothelioma is nearly always diagnosed in people in or approaching their Medicare years.

The Republian position was bolstered by the fact-check site, which judged the ad to be misleading.

“Yes, the Republican plan would be a huge change to the current program, and seniors would have to pay more for their health plans if it becomes law. Democrats, including President Barack Obama, have said they are strongly opposed to the plan.

“But to say the Republicans voted to end Medicare, as the ad does, is a major exaggeration. All seniors would continue to be offered coverage under the proposal, and the program’s budget would increase every year.”

The primary point of the ad was that seniors would pay more for health care under the Republican plan, and PoliFact admits this is true. But Republicans aren’t ending Medicare, just changing it.

Others argue PoliFact was bamboozled by Republican talking points and didn’t see reality. Steve Benen writes for Washington Monthly,

“Medicare is a single-payer health care system offering guaranteed benefits to seniors. The House Republican budget plan intends to do away with the existing system and replace it with something very different — a privatized voucher plan. It would still be called “Medicare,” but it wouldn’t be Medicare.

“It seems foolish to have to parse the meaning of the word “end,” but if there’s a program, and it’s replaced with a different program, proponents brought an end to the original program. That’s what the verb means.”

What about the $12,500 figure? PoliFact acknowledges that the number comes from an analysis by the Congressional budget Office. PoliFact argues that the number is misleading, however, because it includes the amount of premiums seniors already pay. “The CBO estimates beneficiaries would contribute about $6,150 in premiums in 2022 if the program isn’t changed at all. So the extra money seniors need to pay under the Republican proposal is more like $6,350.” Oh, good; the premium would only be more than doubled.

But that’s only in 2020. The Ryan plan provides for keeping increases in Medicare tied to the Gross National Product figure, which has not been rising nearly as fast as heath care cost. So the “difference” that seniors would have to pay would get bigger every year.

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