Having failed to make their case talking about jobs and the economy, Republicans now say they want to make this campaign a debate about Medicare (when they’re not talking about abortion). That’s why Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan, the longtime champion of radical change to Medicare, as his running mate.
This is good for America. And this is good for Democrats and Republicans. On one condition only: as long as we have an honest debate on the facts – and not on the lies about Medicare told in campaign ads.
In their TV commercials, and on the stump, Ryan and Romney repeatedly make three assertions about Medicare: that President Obama stole $716 billion from the program to help pay for Obamacare; that their own plan will have no impact on seniors, like Ryan’s mom, already on Medicare; and that the next wave of seniors who qualify for Medicare will enjoy greater choice and benefits.
Each of those statements is an outright lie. And Ryan and Romney know it. But they run around the country like two classic snake-oil salesmen, confident they can sell their elixir and race on to the next town before anybody discovers it’s a fake.
Not so fast. At the risk of being too wonky, let’s tackle those claims one at a time and get to the truth about Medicare.
Claim 1: Obama cuts $716 billion from Medicare. Partly true. Yes, Obama’s budget would cut $500 billion in bloated subsidies to insurance companies as part of the Medicare Advantage program, and $216 billion in waste, fraud and overpayments to providers. What Ryan/Romney don’t mention is that the exact same $716 billion in cuts are in Paul Ryan’s budget, approved by House Republicans and endorsed by Mitt Romney.
Here’s the only difference. Obama uses the $716 billion to pay for preventive care coverage provided without co-pay in the Affordable Care Act. Ryan uses the funds to help pay for increased defense spending and additional tax cuts to the wealthiest of Americans.
Claim 2: Ryan’s plan, endorsed by Romney, will not affect seniors already on Medicare. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It will, in fact, negatively impact today’s Medicare beneficiaries in three ways. First, it will continue the so-called “doughnut hole” in Plan D, requiring seniors to pay 100 percent of prescription drug costs from $2,800 to $4,500 annually. Second, by adding $1 trillion to the Pentagon budget and trillions more in new tax cuts for wealthy Americans and corporations, it will necessitate cuts in all social programs, including Medicare. Third, because it also repeals Obamacare, Ryan’s plan will force seniors to pay for preventive care, such as cancer screenings, colonoscopies and annual check-ups.
Obama’s plan would completely close the “doughnut hole” by 2020, providing coverage for all prescription drug costs. It makes no changes to existing benefits and, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, actually extends the life of Medicare another eight years.
Claim 3: Starting in 2022, Ryan’s proposal will guarantee future retirees a better plan with more choice and greater benefits. Don’t you believe it. This assertion, by the way, does raise the question: If their new plan is so marvelous, why wait 10 years? Nevertheless, here are the facts.
Ryan’s plan would actually get rid of Medicare by privatizing it. Instead of signing up for Medicare, seniors would be given a voucher to go out and buy private insurance – with no guarantee the voucher would cover the cost. In fact, the CBO estimates seniors would have to pay an average $6,400 per year, on top of the voucher, to buy insurance – money many seniors simply do not have.
True, seniors would be given an option. Instead of using their voucher to buy private insurance, they could choose to stick with government-run Medicare. But because there will be fewer people in the program, and because, as explained above, benefits will have already been cut to pay for Ryan’s Pentagon bonus and tax cuts for the rich, Medicare will be a mere shadow of what it is today. President Obama is not exaggerating when he says Romney and Ryan will “end Medicare as we know it.”
So here’s the truth. On many issues, voters will have a clear choice in November. On Medicare, the choice is between saving the program and destroying it. Those who believe Mitt Romney would save Medicare also believe Todd Akin knows anything about rape.