Medicare downplayed as GOP campaign issue

Polling in swing states rejects vouchers plan

TAMPA, Fla. — The 2012 presidential election could hinge on Medicare, yet most lawmakers featured at the Republican National Convention gave it the silent treatment.

That may be because the issue hasn’t polled well so far for Republicans. A Quinnipiac University Poll released a few days before the convention showed that two-thirds of voters surveyed in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin — all swing states — prefer the current Medicare system to that advocated by vice presidential pick Paul Ryan, who has called for letting seniors use vouchers to buy a portion of their care on the private market.

Indeed, the only prime-time speaker to highlight the issue was Mr. Ryan, who mentioned “Medicare” seven times during his Wednesday night address.

Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it,” he said. “A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.”

Mr. Ryan was the architect of the Roadmap to Prosperity, a series of House bills that advocated reforming Medicare through market-based competition. The Romney-Ryan plan calls for restoring the $716 billion cut from Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Nonetheless, it was clear that Republican strategists were reluctant to spend too much time explaining the details of the ticket’s Medicare reform ideas. Which is unfortunate, because Medicare could be a winning issue for Republicans, according to former New York Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey.

“I don’t believe it’s a sticky issue,” said Mrs. McCaughey, author of “Obama Health Law: What It Says and How to Overturn It” (Encounter, 2010). “There was so little emphasis on Medicare, it puzzles me. I guess political professionals believe the American public can’t handle the facts, when in fact they’re hungry for the facts.”

Mrs. McCaughey spoke Monday as part of “Newt University,” a series of in-depth policy talks hosted by former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich during the convention. Her focus: the impact of Obamacare on Medicare.

Her presentation raised the specter of thousands of senior citizens being denied adequate health care under the Affordable Care Act, the result of its cuts in payments to doctors and hospitals. Democrats have said the reductions will come from waste, fraud and abuse, but Mrs. McCaughey said hospitals have historically dealt with cuts by cutting back on nursing shifts.

“Every study shows that hospitals respond to cuts by reducing the number of nurses, so when you push the button, nobody’s there,” said Mrs. McCaughey. “We have lots of evidence showing that when hospital payment rates are cut, seniors are less able to survive.”

Mr. Ryan did take aim at Obamacare in his speech, saying the president’s decision to raid Medicare to fund the Affordable Care Act means “an obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for.”

The Obama campaign struck back by denouncing Mr. Ryan’s comments and accusing him of wanting to replace Medicare payments with vouchers. The Ryan road map calls for allowing future Medicare recipients to pay for part of their health coverage with vouchers on the private market.

Ryan said that he and Romney would save Medicare for future generations,” said Obama campaign blogger Melanie Garunay. “Their plan would actually replace Medicare as we know it with a voucher system — raising costs for seniors.”

What most voters don’t realize, Mrs. McCaughey said, is that in October, the Affordable Care Act begins rewarding hospitals that find ways to cut costs and penalizing hospitals that raise costs with demerits that lead to reductions in funding.

She said the time is ripe for Republicans to “get the facts out” by connecting the dots between Obamacare’s spending cuts and the predicted degradation in health care.

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