GOP Lawmakers Forced To Defend Support for Medicare Overhaul Plan
Mounting opposition from Democrats to a proposal to overhaul and privatize Medicare in the House-approved fiscal year 2012 budget resolution (H Con Res 34) has forced GOP lawmakers to defend the proposal and reassure elderly voters that their health insurance coverage will remain intact, Reuters reports (Smith, Reuters, 4/21).
Meanwhile, two national polls released last week showed diverging opinions among voters about the recent Democratic and Republican plans for the Medicare program, according to National Journal's "Hotline on Call" (Shepard, "Hotline on Call," National Journal, 4/22).
Background on GOP Plan
The GOP budget blueprint would provide Medicare beneficiaries with fixed, lump-sum vouchers to purchase private health insurance. It also seeks to make $6 trillion in federal spending cuts over the next decade and attempts to repeal and defund the health reform law (California Healthline, 4/22). The Congressional Budget Office found that under the GOP blueprint, most future Medicare beneficiaries would pay more for health care for two reasons:
- Private plans would cost more than traditional Medicare because of higher administrative costs and other factors; and
- Federal contribution would grow more slowly than health care cost inflation, leaving beneficiaries to pay the rest.
Democrats immediately criticized the proposal for making cuts to entitlement programs but not reducing defense spending or seeking higher tax revenue (California Healthline, 4/6). Last week, during a series of town-hall meetings in California, Nevada and Virginia, President Obama condemned the GOP plan, calling it "fairly radical" and "shortsighted," but not "particularly courageous" (California Healthline, 4/21).
According to Reuters, GOP lawmakers in recent weeks have been hosting town-hall meetings with constituents nationwide to alleviate the concerns of older voters and to clarify their message about the plan: the Medicare program, in its current form, is unsustainable, and their proposal guarantees seniors' access to health care.
Political observers note that Republicans are being forced to explain their plan to Medicare beneficiaries, who generally are older and a reliable voting group.
John Feehery -- a political communications expert and a former Republican congressional staffer -- said that for Republicans to secure the support of older voters, they have "got to come up with a communications plan that tells senior citizens that are 55 and over that [the proposal] is not going to touch" them (Reuters, 4/21).
Public Opinion Diverges on Competing Medicare Plans
Two new public opinion polls released last week illustrated "differing snapshots" on the latest Democratic and Republican plans for the Medicare program, "Hotline on Call" reports.
A CBS News/New York Times poll released on Thursday found that 48% of respondents are "willing" to support a plan to "reduce spending on Medicare" to cut the federal deficit, while 45% of respondents said they would not be willing to support the idea ("Hotline on Call," National Journal, 4/22).
However, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Wednesday found that just 21% of respondents support proposed cuts to Medicare, while 78% said they oppose the Medicare cuts (California Healthline, 4/20).
According to "Hotline on Call," there are "myriad" reasons to explain the divergence between the two polls, particularly the timing of when the polls were conducted and the order of questions that were asked. The Post/ABC News poll was conducted immediately after Obama delivered a speech in which he outlined his deficit reduction proposal, while the CBS News/Times poll was conducted more recently ("Hotline on Call," National Journal, 4/22).
Obama proposed to cut the federal deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years through a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on high-income U.S. residents. As part of the plan, $480 billion would be cut from Medicare and Medicaid, although Obama promised that it would preserve the programs (California Healthline, 4/22).