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Lack of Evidence for Claim that Ryan's Medicare Reform Will Be Unpopular

10:29 AM, Jun 1, 2011 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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The New York Times’s Nate Silver claims that Paul Ryan’s proposed Medicare reforms — which are part of a budget that would save a staggering $1 billion a day in relation to President Obama’s budget — are likely to become unpopular. Silver argues,

The question about whether Mr. Ryan’s plan is popular right now…is not terribly important. Instead, what matters is the impact it could have with voters next November — after both sides have exhausted their opportunity to make arguments about it.

That’s certainly true. Silver then adds, “Democrats…seem to have the more persuasive side of the argument.”  

In reaching this doubtful conclusion, Silver relies on polls done by Kaiser (49 percent of whose respondents lean Democratic, compared to only 34 percent who lean Republican) and Democracy Corps (a Democratic firm). These two polls found that people are not generally opposed to Ryan’s proposal, but allegedly become so when they hear more about it. In other words, these polls asked people whether they liked Ryan’s plan, then told them more about it, then asked them again. But what, exactly, did they tell them about it? 

Kaiser listed a few quick arguments for and against Ryan’s plan. But the arguments for it were rather tepid (the reforms “will help reduce the federal budget deficit,” not are necessary to prevent a fiscal crisis, as our entitlement driven debt has now soared past $14 trillion with no end in sight). The arguments against it, meanwhile, included the claim that it would “eliminate traditional Medicare.” People don’t generally want Medicare to end, so, unsurprisingly, many withdrew their prior support. 

But, in truth, Ryan’s plan would preserve Medicare’s sinking ship, keeping it afloat for future generations. As President Obama has admitted, Medicare and Medicaid are the “single biggest drivers” of our debt — which would soar from $14 to $28 trillion under his 10-year budget — making these federal health care programs plainly unsustainable in the absence of meaningful reforms. The Democrats, however, haven’t offered any such reforms, aside from raiding from Medicare to fund Obamacare, and dumping 23 million new people into Medicaid (both of which would happen if Obamacare isn’t repealed).

Democracy Corps likewise listed various Republican and Democratic arguments addressing Ryan’s plan, but the Republican ones, as presented, mostly lacked punch. Meanwhile, the most effective argument in changing people’s minds — according to the poll — was a doozy of a Democratic one, which (in part) included these claims: “This plan would cut Medicare spending and replace Medicare with a voucher system, which will force seniors to negotiate with private insurance companies, which are free to raise rates and deny coverage.” 

One pictures granny — voucher in hand — sitting across a table from private insurance reps, with whom she’s engaged in heated negotiations.  Alas, Democracy Corps’ description misrepresents the Ryan plan in essentially every detail: It’s not a voucher plan (as the Congressional Budget Office notes).  Instead, seniors would receive premium support for the private plan of their choice, which they would simply pick (no negotiations necessary). Insurers would be required by law to cover any and all seniors, not cherry pick. They couldn’t deny coverage. If they raised their rates, seniors could switch plans. 

In short, nothing in these polls suggests that the plan put forward by Paul Ryan and the House Republicans would lose ground with the citizenry, rather than gain it, the more it is explained — and the more the pressing need for it is conveyed.

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