California Healthline Daily Edition

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Romney, Obama Keep Trading Barbs About Medicare Program

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama traded jabs Wednesday about Medicare, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Romney's Comments

During a campaign fundraiser in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Romney said President Obama "cut Medicare funding for current Medicare retirees" to fund the Affordable Care Act. "He raided that trust fund to pay for ObamaCare," Romney said, adding, "as seniors hear this they're going to be angry" (Finnegan/Parsons, Los Angeles Times, 8/16).

Romney has promised to repeal the cuts if elected. In a previous interview, Romney said, "The president's cuts of $716 billion to Medicare, those cuts are going to be restored if I become president and Paul Ryan becomes vice president" (Lee, Wall Street Journal, 8/15).

Romney also praised his running mate, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan's (Wis.), for making "important strides in the right direction by keeping the system solvent and introducing market-based dynamics" (Los Angeles Times, 8/16).

Ryan's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal -- which passed the House in March and was approved again in a procedural move in early April -- would transform Medicare from a fee-for-service program to one in which beneficiaries could either purchase coverage on the private market or maintain traditional Medicare coverage (California Healthline, 8/14).

Obama Responds

At a campaign stop in Iowa, Obama stressed that the spending reductions to Medicare included in the ACA would not cut any benefits, the New York Times reports.

Obama said, "This is something I've got to point out here, because they're just throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks." He added that he has "strengthened" Medicare and said his plan "has already extended Medicare for nearly a decade."

Obama then turned the tables on Romney and Ryan, saying that their plan "makes seniors pay more so we can get tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires" by turning the program into a "voucher program" which would cost beneficiaries an extra $6,400 annually (Cooper, New York Times, 8/15).

Obama also highlighted popular provisions of the federal health reform law and criticized Romney and Ryan for continuing debate over the ACA. "The Supreme Court has spoken, it is the law of the land, we are moving forward to give every American the health security they deserve," he said (Gardner et al., Washington Post, 8/15).

Romney's Pledge To Restore ACA's Medicare Cuts Could Backfire

Romney's recent pledge to restore $716 billion in Medicare funding cuts under the health reform law could "backfire" if he is elected, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.

According to the AP/Chronicle, the reductions do not affect benefits, but rather seek to address spending growth by reducing reimbursements to hospitals, insurers, nursing homes, drugmakers and other providers. Repealing the cuts would restore higher payments and increase the program's spending rate. As a result, Medicare's trust fund for inpatient care would go insolvent by 2016, instead of 2024, which would leave Romney "little political breathing room" to finalize his own reform plan, according to the AP/Chronicle.

Romney would "have to find other ways to get the cost down in the future," Marilyn Moon, director of health for the not-for-profit American Institutes for Research, said. Romney "would have three options: either cut it out of providers in a different way, ask beneficiaries to pay higher premiums in various ways or raise taxes in order to pay for it," she added (Alonso-Zaldivar, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/16).

Experts Say Campaigns Could Jeopardize Long-Term Medicare Reform

Deficit-reduction advocates say the campaign rhetoric on Medicare is failing to educate the public on the importance of addressing rising Medicare spending, the Washington Post reports.

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, said Romney and Obama are undermining efforts to show the public why Medicare reductions are necessary. "I don’t' think it's off to a very good start, if what we're looking for is a good, substantive debate on deficit reduction," Bixby said.

Steve Bell, economic policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said, "There's not a serious person out there who argues" that Medicare in its current state is sustainable. He added, "[W]e are now starting to have an emotional, distorted, propagandistic debate about it" (Helderman, Washington Post, 8/15).

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