(Orange, Texas)

October 15, 2012

Competing Medicare Visions Coming Into Focus

Special to The Leader
The Orange Leader

AUSTIN, Texas — The national debate over the future of Medicare is playing a role in some Texas congressional races. Outside GOP groups are spending big bucks to accuse Democratic candidates of supporting $716 billion of cuts to Medicare. Democrats say Republicans want to "end Medicare as we know it." Both charges have been labeled as falsehoods or partial truths by independent fact checkers.

Paul Van de Water, senior fellow with the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), insists that the Medicare cuts under "ObamaCare" target overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans and payments to health-care providers.

"None of this involves actually reducing the benefits that Medicare beneficiaries will receive, in terms of doctors' visits and hospital stays and nursing home stays."

Democrats have relied on a study from Van de Water's think tank to portray a proposal by Mitt Romney as costing seniors more than $6,000 a year, but fact checkers say that figure is based on a previous plan by vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to create a Medicare voucher program. Romney's current plan, they report, says vouchers could be an experimental addition to traditional Medicare.

Conservatives, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board, say the passage of "ObamaCare" - which has been widely portrayed as a government takeover of health care - opened up a political window for Republicans to campaign on changes to Medicare that not long ago would have scared off moderate voters. Liberals defend the Affordable Care Act and warn of big setbacks if it is repealed. 

Mark Steinberg, deputy director of health policy with Families USA, warns that under Romney's plan, seniors would lose new preventive-care and prescription-drug benefits.

"There are some other problems, too, including changes to Medicaid, changes to the life of the trust fund and Medicare premiums going up - all of which matter to people with Medicare today."

With both sides saying they want to save Medicare, it's up to voters to decide whose approach they trust more. There are signs that the public is serious about sifting through the steady stream of misleading soundbites, 30-second ads and debate accusations. A recent survey found that 64 percent of persuadable swing voters say they are making independent efforts to fact-check candidate claims.