Surrogates Admit Romney Will Cut Medicare Benefits For Current Seniors

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Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to neutralize Democratic attacks on their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program for future seniors by replaying the GOP’s 2010 campaign against Democratic members of Congress: by attacking President Obama for Medicare cuts he signed into law.

As has been noted repeatedly, that strategy requires Romney and Ryan to disavow Medicare reforms the GOP recently endorsed overwhelmingly as a part of the party’s budget, which Ryan authored.

But the ticket also contends that a key difference between Obama and Romney is that Romney won’t change Medicare at all for existing beneficiaries — only future ones. Recent statements from his advisers and surrogates, suggest the claim is false.As outlined in a memo the campaign released Saturday, Romney plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act in its entirety, and thus to spend over $700 billion more on the program in the coming decade than the government would spend if the health care law stands.

That commitment would leave Medicare poised for insolvency in 2016, years before he proposes to phase in the voucher system. Which means Romney would have two options: find new Medicare cuts or taxes to extend the life of the program, or preside over its demise.

On Fox News Sunday, Romney adviser Ed Gillespie tried to address the conundrum. “There are other reforms as well. As you know Governor Romney supports increasing over time bringing the Medicare eligibility age in line with the Social Security retirement age.”

But raising the Medicare eligibility age is a benefit cut, and implementing the increase before 2016 would violate Romney’s pledge to leave the program unchanged for people between ages 55 and 65.

Avik Roy, an outside health care adviser to the Romney campaign, admits that committing to billions of dollars in higher Medicare spending in the near-term will make it difficult for Romney to achieve its separate goal of reducing overall federal spending to modern lows. But he notes that Romney could make up the difference elsewhere in the budget or, by “mak[ing] other changes to the Medicare program, such as increased means-testing, that don’t alter the program’s basic structure.”

Further means-testing of Medicare would amount to a benefit cut to current seniors.

These admissions rest on top of the fact that by repealing the Affordable Care Act, Romney would wipe out new Medicare benefits included in the law. Repeal would result in higher payments to doctors and hospitals, and the restoration of overpayments to insurers participating in Medicare advantage. But for beneficiaries, it would re-open the Medicare prescription drug donut hole and eliminate coverage for preventive services and annual checkups that the ACA created.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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