The Battle Over Medicare Will Be Waged In the Election Booth

The Medicare program as we know it is at a crossroad. But, just how important is it to voters? The Kaiser Family Foundation shed some light on that question Thursday when it released a report stating that 73% of respondents polled in the days around the announcement of Paul Ryan as the running mate of presumptive Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney described Medicare as "very important" or "extremely important" to their votes.

The Medicare program as we know it is at a crossroad. But, just how important is it to voters? The Kaiser Family Foundation shed some light on that question Thursday when it released a report stating that 73% of respondents polled in the days around the announcement of Paul Ryan as the running mate of presumptive Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney described Medicare as "very important" or "extremely important" to their votes. That number includes a “large majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans.”

Make no mistake about it; Romney’s choice for running mate and the importance of Medicare in the upcoming election are not a coincidence. The appointment of Ryan is a bold strategic move that could either backfire or be Romney’s ticket to the Oval Office.

Although Romney may have his own budget plan when it comes to Medicare, he is asserting to the American public that he and Ryan are on the same page. "I think it'd be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan's budget and to adopt it and pass it along to the president," Romney said. But, what’s the “plan” exactly? Ryan has proposed turning Medicare “into a program that provides future retirees with a fixed payment for purchasing private coverage or traditional Medicare, arguing that having seniors manage their own healthcare will help bring down costs.” Critics argue that the proposed plan makes the elderly “responsible for spending thousands more dollars per capita each year on their healthcare.”

For the past 16 months (if not significantly longer), the Democratic Party has relied on “Mediscare” tactics; however, the unavoidable fact is that the Medicare program is on an unsustainable track. As Robert Laszewski put it in a recent posting on The Health Care Blog, “The fundamental problem here is that the Democrats have decided that their best path to victory in the November elections is to say that the Republicans want to destroy Medicare as we know it and that the Democrats can preserve it.” He goes on to say that “There isn’t a prayer that your father’s Medicare will be around in 10 years.” This means that the Democratic Party must abandon those tactics and can no longer rely on a promise to keep the program unchanged.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member Joe Rago says Mitt Romney’s new Medicare ad is exactly what Republicans need to do if they want to capture the White House. “The [Republican party] strategy here is to neutralize ‘Mediscare’ and to fight on an even playing field, saying [that] ‘Medicare is already changing. The status quo is gone… it’s exhausted. The Affordable Care Act ended it. Here’s what we want to do to put the entitlement on a sustainable course.’” Unfortunately, Romney may still have some work to do within his own party. Either way, expect the $716 billion figure to become a point of explanation and contention over the coming months.

Around the Web

The Mediscare Boomerang [WSJ]

U.S. voters see Medicare as a top election issue: poll [Reuters]

The Coming Battle for Medicare [The Health Care Blog]

Don’t Change Medicare, Most Republicans Say In Poll [Kaiser Health News]