California Healthline Daily Edition

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Presidential Campaigns Keep Up Focus on Health Reform Law, Medicare

Over the weekend, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama continued to make the Affordable Care Act and Medicare key elements of their campaigns with an eye toward attracting swing voters this November, the AP/San Jose Mercury News reports.

Romney used a television interview to renew his promise to repeal the ACA, while Obama at campaign stops in Florida focused his criticism on his Republican challenger's Medicare plan. However, Romney also pledged to retain key parts of the law that his campaign described as "common-sense" measures (Beaumont/Kuhnhenn, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 9/9).

Romney Offers Conciliatory Remarks on Health Reform Law

During an interview on Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Romney said he still intends to repeal the health reform law if elected, but he noted that it contains popular provisions that he would preserve, the Los Angeles Times reports (Reston/Parsons, Los Angeles Times, 9/9).

"I'm not getting rid of all health care reform. ... I'm replacing it with my own plan," he said, adding, "[T]here are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place."

Romney said, "One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage. Two is to assure that the marketplace allows for individuals to have policies that cover their family up to whatever age they might like" (Dunham, Reuters, 9/9). "I also want individuals to be able to buy insurance, health insurance, on their own as opposed to only being able to get it on a tax advantage basis through their company," he added.

Romney, however, did not explain that his health care plan would provide coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions only if they already had uninterrupted insurance coverage, the Times notes (Los Angeles Times, 9/9).

According to the New York Times' "The Caucus," Romney's comments suggest "the emergence of a less openly partisan, more general-election-oriented" GOP nominee who is seeking to appeal to undecided voters (Barbaro/Rutenberg, "The Caucus," New York Times, 9/9).

However, Romney spokesperson Kevin Madden dismissed such suggestions, noting that "[a]ffordability and portability of health care insurance aren't partisan issues" and added that repealing the health reform law continues to be Romney's focus "because [the law] costs too much and the taxes and regulations are hurting small business. That's common sense" (AP/San Jose Mercury News, 9/9).

Obama Criticizes Ryan-Romney Medicare Plan, Cites New Study

Meanwhile, during campaign events in Florida over the weekend, Obama warned supporters that the Medicare overhaul plan proposed by Romney's running mate, House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), would result in higher costs for seniors and increased profits for insurers, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Mali, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/9).

The Medicare plan -- in Ryan's House-approved budget proposal which Romney has endorsed -- would transform Medicare into a premium support program in which beneficiaries would receive a subsidy to purchase insurance in the private market (California Healthline, 9/7).

During a rally on Sunday, Obama cited a study by Harvard University professor David Cutler, a senior health care adviser to his 2008 presidential campaign, which showed that under the Ryan-Romney plan, an individual retiring at age 65 in 2023 would have to pay an average of $59,500 more for health care throughout their retirement (Kuhnhenn/Daly, AP/U-T San Diego, 9/9).

Obama said the study -- released by the liberal Center for American Progress Action fund -- also showed that the Ryan-Romney plan "would mean as much as $16 billion to $26 billion in new profits for insurance companies." He continued, "Your costs would rise by the thousands and the insurance companies' profits would rise by the billions," adding, "No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies."

Obama invoked his administration's description of the GOP Medicare proposal as a "voucher plan" that would "bankrupt" the program, before noting that Democrats "will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul -- but we'll do it by reducing the cost of health care, not by dumping those costs on to seniors" ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 9/9).

Obama Administration Medicare Pilot Program Raises Concern

Consumer groups in a recent letter to HHS expressed concern about a Medicare pilot program under the federal health reform law, which aims to test different health care delivery methods aimed at lowering costs, National Journal reports.

According to National Journal, HHS already has accepted applications from 18 states to participate in the pilot program that would shift up to two million "dual eligible" beneficiaries into private managed-care plans overseen by the states.

Critics have noticed the "irony in the administration's support" for the state pilot programs, the National Journal reports.

Patricia Nemore -- a consultant to the Center for Medicare Advocacy, one of the 33 consumer groups -- said, "It does seem to move the dual-eligible population in kind of a different direction from where the energy seems to be."

However, Melanie Bella -- director of the Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office at HHS -- recently told lawmakers at a Senate hearing that initiative would be carefully monitored and it was designed to achieve cost savings while "improving health care delivery" and streamline services (Sanger-Katz, National Journal, 9/8).

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