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Obama Campaign Lies About Ryan Medicare Reform

Will the press let them get away with it?

5:15 PM, Aug 11, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Today, at 9:22 a.m., Obama campaign manager Jim Messina sent out an email blasting Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate, Wisconsin congressman and House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan. "[Ryan's] plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors," Messina wrote.

Obama Portrait 2006

There are many reasons why Messina's statement is tendentious, misleading, and false. The latest version of the Ryan Medicare reform plan allows future retirees use a premium support payment to buy private insurance or buy into traditional Medicare--a proposal endorsed by Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. Medicare will end "as we know it" under Obama's plan of rationing and/or bankruptcy. But the most dishonest part of Messina's statement is that it leaves the impression that the Ryan plan would affect current seniors. That is not true. Ryan's Medicare reform doesn't affect current seniors or those 10 years away from retirement.

Ryan justifies the delayed implementation of the plan because retirees or those near retirement have planned their lives around Medicare in its current form, and those under 55 will have more time to plan for some modest changes necessary to avert a fiscal crisis. Delayed implementation is also what makes Ryan's plan politically viable. Voters 55 and over won't be affected at all, so they really shouldn't have anything to worry about. And the vast majority of voters under the age of 55 don't believe big entitlement programs will even be around to pay them a benefit when they retire, as this Gallup poll on Social Security revealed: 

While 69% of Americans age 55 and older think they will receive Social Security benefits, a mere 22% of 18- to 34-year-olds and 32% of 35- to 54-year-olds think the program will even be around when they retire. Changes to Medicare--even the modest changes Ryan and Romney favor--might spook current beneficiaries or those close to retirement, but it's hard to imagine why younger voters would vote against a candidate for altering a program from which they don't expect to benefit. If anything, Ryan's plan offers the under-55 crowd the best hope that these programs will still be functioning when they reach retirement.  

Medicare reform generally does not poll well. For example, one ABC/Washington Post poll in April 2011 found that 78 percent of Americans oppose "cutting Medicare" to reduce the deficit. But when voters learn that Medicare reform doesn't affect those over 55, the plan is an electoral wash.

Wall Street Journal/NBC poll from June 2011 asked Americans if they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate who "supports changing Medicare for those under 55 to a system where people choose their insurance from a list of private health plans and the government pays a fixed amount, sometimes called a voucher, towards that cost." Thirty-eight percent of Americans said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports such a reform reform, while 37 percent said they were less likely to vote for that candidate. Eighteen percent said it made "no difference" in determining their vote, and 7 percent were not sure.

So it seems that preserving Medicare exactly as it is for the 55-and-older crowd is essential to the political viability of Medicare reform. Democrats and the Obama campaign therefore want to elide this crucial fact about the Ryan plan. That's just politics as usual.

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