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The Campaign Dog that Didn’t Bark

Farewell, Mediscare.

Nov 5, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 08 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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However, Ryan had revised his reform proposal to address this issue long before the Obama campaign unveiled its attack ads. The plan attacked by Obama ads was not the version embraced by the Romney ticket​—​and for good reason. Ryan’s fixes were ones first proposed by Romney during his primary campaign. The Obama campaign’s Medicare critique was based on a proposal that the top of the GOP ticket had never endorsed and the bottom of the ticket had abandoned.

The GOP’s decision to highlight the $716 billion Obama-care took from Medicare proved very difficult for Democrats to rebut. The Obama campaign’s defensive spin on the matter was transparent and weak. At the first debate, the president tried to claim that money taken from Medicare was a matter of savings. “Seven-hundred-and-sixteen billion we were able to save from the Medicare program by no longer overpaying insurance companies by making sure that we weren’t overpaying providers,” Obama said. 

The problem with this argument is that Medicare doesn’t overpay​—​indeed, it often pays doctors below market rates to treat patients. You can’t lower Medicare costs this way without limiting seniors’ access to care. Romney’s response at the debate was accordingly damning: 

On Medicare, for current retirees, he’s cutting $716 billion from the program. .  .  . That’s not just going after places where there’s abuse. That’s saying we’re cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won’t take any more Medicare patients under that scenario. We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won’t take more Medicare patients. .  .  .

We have four million people on Medicare Advantage that will lose Medicare Advantage because of those $716 billion in cuts.

Ultimately, Obama-care was Rom-ney and Ryan’s biggest weapon. “When seniors hear that Obama-care took $716 billion out of Medicare, they don’t need to know exactly how it did that​—​they don’t even need to know how the administration and their echo chamber in the media, particularly fact checkers, are wrong when they say, ‘Oh, I took that money away from providers, not beneficiaries,’ ” observes Cannon. “They know that means their subsidies are going to go down, and they don’t like that. It’s more of an intuitive, gut-level reaction that people have.” 

As for intuitive, gut-level reactions, Tevi Troy, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and an adviser to the Romney campaign on health care policy, also attributes the failure of Mediscare to a change in public attitudes. 

“The fiscal realities that we are facing have become more apparent,” he says. “When you see countries like Greece and Spain going through what they’re going through, and when you also see the financial collapse we went through just a few years ago, people recognize that you can’t just continue on the current unsustainable path.”

While the public is increasingly cognizant of the threat posed by Medicare’s trillions of debt, Democrats have been thumbing their nose at the public’s fiscal anxiety by impeding Medicare reform for political gain. In an article for Commentary last year, Troy observed that Senator Patty Murray, in her capacities as both head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic co-chair of the deficit reduction supercommittee, was actively blocking efforts to compromise on Medicare. “We shouldn’t be giving away our advantage on Medicare. .  .  . We should be very careful about giving away the biggest advantage we’ve had as Democrats in some time,” a source close to Murray told the Washington Post. 

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber also reported that the White House blew up the $4 trillion “grand bargain” deficit negotiations, including Medicare reform, to avoid throwing the Republicans a bone on taxes:

“Let me get this right,” [GOP senator Jon] Kyl finally said to [White House aides Jack Lew and Gene Sperling] as the discussion became tense. “You’re saying there are Medicare savings you think would be good policy. But you won’t do them unless we agree to raise taxes?” Lew and Sperling looked back at him stone-faced and simply said: “Yes.” A few days later, on June 23, [GOP House majority leader Eric] Cantor and Kyl withdrew from the negotiations.

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