Medicare Reform Discussion Rages on During VP Debate

Published Online: October 15, 2012
Election Day is less than a month away now, and the candidates’ stances on key issues related to health care are becoming clearer. One of the most polarizing issues so far has been Medicare. The Obama and Romney administrations have radically different views on how to move forward with the program, and those views were a major topic of conversation during last night’s Vice Presidential Debate.

Medicare excerpt from VP debate

The New York Times’ Michael Cooper, Jonathan Weisman, and Eric Schmidt break down many of the statements made in last night’s debate. One of the primary concerns about the Romney/Ryan plan for Medicare is whether seniors will need to use a voucher. Although Ryan stated last night that the program does not include vouchers (“A voucher is [something where] you go to your mailbox and get a check and buy something. Nobody is proposing that.”), Democrats have been labeling the plan as exactly that. Cooper, Weisman, and Schmidt report the following:

Mr. Ryan believes competition will drive down the cost of healthcare, keeping the voucher’s value up to date. The Congressional Budget Office projected that over time, the value of the voucher would erode, shifting the extra costs to seniors. Critics also warn that under Mr. Ryan’s plan, private insurers would try to sign up the healthiest seniors, leaving the sickest, most-expensive-to-cover seniors to enroll in the government program. That would raise the government’s costs and steeply erode the value of those seniors’ vouchers.

Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler was one of many journalists who published a “fact check” article following the debate, only his article focused solely on the Medicare portion of the debate. Here is what Kessler had to say regarding the popular $700 billion figure that gets thrown around:

This $700 billion figure comes from the difference over 10 years (2013-2022) between anticipated Medicare spending (what is known as “the baseline”) and the changes that the law makes to reduce spending. The savings mostly are wrung from healthcare providers, not Medicare beneficiaries — who, as a result of the healthcare law, ended up with new benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs…but Biden is completely wrong when he says the money was applied to Medicare. In fact, the anticipated savings from Medicare were used to help offset some of the anticipated costs of expanding healthcare for all Americans, as Ryan said.

Kessler also goes on to point out that Ryan’s statement about coming up with his Medicare plan proposal in collaboration with “a prominent Democrat senator from Oregon” is misleading. Yes, Oregon’s Ron Wyden did originally work with Ryan on an early proposal, but he has since distanced himself from the final proposal, stating that it did not reflect their original discussions.

The debate may not have completely clarified where Medicare may be heading, but it did provide the American public with an idea of the administrations’ intentions. Clearly the Medicare program will be on the minds of many elderly Americans, and those votes will be crucial in certain swing states. The Medicare discussion will certainly resume when Obama and Romney meet in the second of their three debates on October 16th at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY.

Around the Web
Fact checking the vice-presidential debate [Washington Post]

Bipartisan Spin on Medicare Plan [NY Times]