Medicare Becoming the Primary Focus of 2012 Presidential Campaigns
Although many experts expected the campaigns of President Obama and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to focus on jobs and the economy, Medicare has become the focus instead, the AP/Boston Globe reports.
Romney has embraced the issue -- which the GOP "usually approaches gingerly," according to the AP/Globe -- because the Romney campaign is betting that voters' concerns about the federal budget deficit and the Affordable Care Act have opened the door for debate on the program's solvency (Feller, AP/Boston Globe, 8/18). Romney and other Republicans continue to charge that Obama included more than $700 billion in Medicare cuts in order to fund the health reform law (Winfield Cunningham, Washington Times, 8/19).
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has sought to link Romney to a budget proposal from his running mate, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), that would alter 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. The Obama campaign has welcomed debate over Medicare, which has diverted attention from the economy, according to the AP/Globe (AP/Boston Globe, 8/18).
Ryan Discusses Medicare in Florida
Ryan discussed Medicare at length on Saturday during a rally at a central Florida retirement community, the New York Times reports. During his speech, Ryan criticized the federal health reform law and outlined his plan to overhaul Medicare.
Ryan also sought to "personalize the long-term threat to Medicare's solvency" by introducing his 78-year-old mother, according to the Times. He said the program "was there for my family, for my grandma, when we needed it. And Medicare is there for my mom when she needs it now, and we have to keep that guarantee." He said to save the program for current and future beneficiaries, "you have to reform it for my generation, so it doesn't go bankrupt when we want to retire" (Gabriel/Cooper, New York Times, 8/18).
Ryan offered few details on his own plan to overhaul Medicare and spent more time targeting President Obama. He criticized the overhaul's Independent Payment Advisory Board, which he called a "board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats" that would be "in charge of Medicare" and "required to cut Medicare in way that will lead to denied care for current seniors" (West, Los Angeles Times, 8/18).
He said Obama "raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the ObamaCare program," which he alleged would cause "one out of six of our hospitals and our nursing homes [to] go out of business" (New York Times, 8/18). In addition, Ryan said that the cuts would cause four million beneficiaries to lose Medicare Advantage coverage (Sonmez, Washington Post, 8/18).
Romney Campaign Defends Medicare Plans
Other Romney campaign staffers criticized Democrats' Medicare reforms in appearances on the Sunday talk shows, The Hill reports (Lillis/Munoz, The Hill, 8/19).
Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Romney adviser, said on CNN's "State of the Union," "There is only one candidate in the race who has made cuts to Medicare that have affected current seniors, and that is President Obama" (Elliott, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/20). Fehrnstrom said cuts to Medicare included in the health reform law would force thousands of Medicare beneficiaries to find alternative forms of coverage. "There are people out there right now ... who are now shopping for new Medicare -- or new private health care because their Medicare Advantage program is being cut by this president," Fehrnstrom said (The Hill, 8/19).
The Romney campaign also released an audio podcast that emphasized that his proposal would "save and strengthen Medicare," adding that he and Ryan would "ensure that seniors are protected from President Obama's reckless actions." He said his plan would "guarantees the future of the program by forcing insurance companies to compete for business" (Mali, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/18).
On Monday, the Romney campaign plans to continue to spread its Medicare message, as Romney and Ryan are scheduled to appear in New Hampshire. According to the AP/Chronicle, they are expected to explain how their approach to Medicare will not affect anyone currently over age 55 (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 8/20).
Obama and Democrats Respond, Attack
Obama and his staff over the weekend responded to GOP criticism over Medicare and stepped up their criticism of Ryan's proposal for the program, the Los Angeles Times' "Politics Now" reports (Parsons, "Politics Now," Los Angeles Times, 8/18).
Obama said, "My plan saves money in Medicare by cracking down on fraud and waste and insurance company subsidies. And their plan makes seniors pay more so they can give another tax cut to millionaires and billionaires" (Henderson, Washington Post, 8/18).
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama acknowledged the necessity of Medicare reform but argued that the Romney-Ryan plan to partially privatize the program would fail (Dennis, Roll Call, 8/16).
Likewise, Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod said Ryan's Medicare plan was "a Trojan Horse" that would lead the program into "a death spiral" (AP/Boston Globe, 8/18).
Senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said Ryan should "thank" Obama for strengthening Medicare and defended against attacks that the administration has cut $716 billion from the program. "We found $716 billion in efficiency and savings primarily by reducing the subsidies that the government was paying to Medicare Advantage through private insurance companies," Gibbs said (Mali, "Hill Tube," The Hill, 8/19).
Meanwhile, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) in a memo urged Democratic candidates to keep up the debate on Medicare. He called on candidates to cite comments made by congressional Republicans against the Ryan budget as proof of "bipartisan opposition" to the plan (Nocera, "On Congress," Politico, 8/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.