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Ryan’s Medicare plan falls flat with seniors

Survey finds a majority prefer government-provided coverage

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2012

In choosing Rep. Paul Ryan as their vice presidential nominee, Republicans put his plans to overhaul Medicare front and center in the election campaign, but a poll released Thursday finds his proposal is not very popular with voters — especially among seniors, one of the key GOP voting blocs.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that more than half of those questioned said they want the government's health care plan for seniors to remain as it is, with the government acting as the insurer, while 37 percent said they prefer the model laid out by Mr. Ryan and running mate Mitt Romney, which would allow seniors to receive a set amount of money to shop for private insurance.

Opposition to the Republican plan was even greater among those 55 and older. Two-thirds said they would rather keep traditional Medicare, even though Mr. Romney has said the changes he supports wouldn't apply to that age group.

A poll released by the Kaiser Family Foundation and The Washington Post found that sizable majorities in three critical swing states — Florida, Ohio and Virginia — oppose the Republicans' blueprint as well.

The findings are particularly troubling for Republicans who hoped to make reforming entitlement programs such as Medicare a central issue in this campaign. By trying to win over voters to the outlines of a plan laid out by the Romney-Ryan campaign, they criticize President Obama for cutting funds for the program through his health care law.

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul dismissed the nationwide poll, saying it slanted the results by asking questions that didn't explain the Republicans' plan accurately and left out key parts, such as the fact that the proposal would leave the option of traditional Medicare in place.

"Voters answer the question you ask them, and in this case, the question that is purported to explain Gov. Romney's Medicare plan is not an accurate reflection of our plan, so the findings are irrelevant," Ms. Saul said.

Mr. Romney has provided only an outline of how he would reform Medicare, but his proposals adhere closely to the plan Mr. Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, introduced in December as chairman of the House Budget Committee. But the Republican running mates have tried to shift the focus to the more than $700 billion in cuts in Mr. Obama's health care law, even though Mr. Ryan's plan would cut Medicare by a similar amount.

Democrats argue that shifting Medicare to a so-called "premium-support model" would force seniors to pay more of their own money for health care coverage because the government traditionally has paid less for health care than private insurance companies.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, sent out an email Thursday highlighting the survey results. Spokesman Nadeam Elshami said the Kaiser poll confirms what Democrats have been arguing: that most Americans don't like the Republican plan.

"Americans reject the Romney-Ryan-Republican 'vouchercare' plan because it ends the Medicare guarantee, forces seniors to pay more and leaves them to the mercy of insurance companies," Mr. Elshami told The Washington Times.

With six weeks to go before the presidential election, the poll stirred up questions about which party stands to gain the most politically from talking about Medicare. Henry Aaron, a senior fellow of economic studies at the Brookings Institution, said Republicans should put the issue on the back burner if they want to win in November.

"It's hard for me to say it's stupid to fight for something you believe in, but if the objective is to win the next election, I don't think it's the optimal strategy," he said.

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