Republicans’ Medicare rebuttal short on facts

Opinion

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin native Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) greet supporters during a campaign event at the Waukesha Expo Center on August 12, 2012 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Romney continues his four day bus tour a day after announcing his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and vice presidential candidate and Wisconsin native Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (L) greet supporters during a campaign event at the Waukesha Expo Center on August 12, 2012 in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Romney continues his four day bus tour a day after announcing his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan. (Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

With the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running-mates, Republicans pumped up the enthusiasm of their base (and frankly, President Barack Obama‘s.) But they also inherited Ryan’s controversial budget “road map” — which the vast majority of congressional Republicans voted for — and which would turn the popular Medicare program into a voucher system. To take the sting out of Democratic attacks on the “Romney-Ryan” budget, Republicans have rolled out a series of defenses, each of which is problematic in its own right.

Defense #1:  “Obamacare” cut Medicare, too!

This has become the favorite talking point of Republicans, including Republican National Committee leader Reince Priebus, who went on the Sunday shows this past weekend and leveled the charge that President Obama “stole” — that’s “s-t-o-l-e” $700 billion from Medicare, to fund “Obamacare.” Priebus even added the flourish that in doing so, Obama has “blood on his hands.” The blood of millions and millions of seniors, I presume…

The problem with  waving the Bloody Priebus, is that the Affordable Care Act’s $700 billion reduction in the cost of Medicare came from cutting subsidies that the federal government would otherwise pay to insurance companies, drug companies, and in some cases, hospitals, under Medicare Advantage — part of the prescription drug overhaul commonly known as Medicare Part D — signed by former president George W. Bush. Hospitals and drug companies actually supported the changes, which unlike Ryan’s plan, didn’t touch the consumers who use Medicare. By contrast, Ryan’s plan would cut the benefits that Medicare recipients receive — and do so drastically. Because the vouchers (or “premium support” as Ryan prefers to call them) wouldn’t keep up with inflation, seniors would suddenly be paying much more for healthcare — estimates have projected as much as 40 percent more.

Another problem with the “Obama did it too,” defense? If the president has “blood on his hands” for cutting drug and insurance company subsidies as part of Medicare Part D, Ryan and his fellow Republicans’ hands are positively drenched — not only did Ryan vote for the Medicare Part D expansion of drug coverage; complete with a “donut hole” that forced seniors to pay more out of pocket when they reached a spending threshold (Obamacare, which Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to repeal, closed the donut hole), and not only did supposed fiscal Hawk Ryan vote for Part D without it being paid for; in his “roadmap,” Ryan keeps the $700 billion in subsidy cuts in place. If the $700 billion in “cuts” are so awful, why hang onto them?

Defense #2: Ryan tried to save Medicare, not end it.

As ThinkProgress, citing the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, pointed out last April, Ryan’s “roadmap” plan for Medicare would work in two stages:

Stage One, Vouchers: Ten years after the Ryan Plan takes effect, it eliminates traditional Medicare entirely and replaces it with a voucher system that seniors can use to by a private health plan. Although this proposal does produce small savings for government when it takes effect, it does so by massively increasing the out-of-pocket costs to American seniors. According to the Congressional Budget Office, total health expenditures for a typical 65-year-old “would be almost 40 percent higher with private coverage under the [Ryan] plan than they would be with a continuation of traditional Medicare” in the first year that the Ryan Plan is in effect.