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ROBINSON: Facts get in the way

Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Republicans and Democrats are being equally nasty in their campaign rhetoric, but they're not being equally truthful. To cite one example, much of what the GOP is saying about Medicare simply isn't supported by the facts.

Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, one of Mitt Romney's more pugnacious surrogates, almost had a conniption fit Tuesday when CNN's Soledad O'Brien pressed him on his assertion that President Obama "gutted Medicare by taking $717 billion out of it." As Sununu knows but refused to acknowledge, this is not true.

The claim is part of an attempt to shore up a vulnerability Romney created by choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate. The budget that Ryan authored, and convinced House Republicans to pass, would eventually change Medicare into a voucher program: Seniors would be given a certain amount of money each year to buy health insurance.

If that amount isn't enough to pay for the kind of coverage you want or need -- under Ryan's latest plan, you could buy a policy from a private insurer or buy Medicare from the government -- you pay the difference out of pocket. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the average Medicare recipient would pay an extra $6,500 a year.

It doesn't take a genius to recognize the political problem this causes for Romney, especially in states where older voters are a key voting bloc. The Romney campaign decided to deal with the anticipated Democratic onslaught by striking first with the claim that it is Obama, not Romney, who wants to take away your Medicare.

Like many lies, this one uses a grain of truth as raw material. The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, slows the rate of growth of payments to Medicare service providers by more than $700 billion over a decade. But no impact is felt by seniors themselves, whose benefits and costs remain the same.

When O'Brien reminded Sununu of these facts, he barked that she should "put an Obama bumper sticker on your forehead." But the claim that Obama had "gutted Medicare" remained false, and O'Brien told Sununu: "You can't just repeat it and make it true, sir."

Sununu knows that. He just wants the focus to be on Romney's pledge to undo Medicare "cuts" that aren't really cuts at all. The Romney campaign knows that as long as people are trying to sort out the facts of this specific allegation, they aren't talking about the real differences between the two parties on the very nature of entitlement programs such as Medicare.

The fact is that Ryan's plan -- which Romney has semi-endorsed and now cannot credibly disown -- effectively would "end Medicare as we know it" -- the phrase voters will hear a bazillion times between now and Election Day, especially those who live in Florida. This is one piece of campaign rhetoric that happens to be true.

Medicare as we know it is a form of social insurance, a guarantee that citizens over 65 will have adequate medical care regardless of how healthy they are or how much money they have. Medicare, as the GOP wants it to be, is a voucher program that will be adequate for some seniors and inadequate for others.

Ryan prefers the term "premium support" to describe his plan. But as Gertrude Stein surely would have noted, a voucher is a voucher is a voucher.

Everyone agrees that something has to be done about skyrocketing costs for Medicare and also Medicaid, the health care program for the poor. Obama took the first step toward "bending the curve" of cost increases with the Affordable Care Act. Leave aside, for the moment, the fact that Romney now pledges to undo the progress Obama has made. The question is what do we want Medicare to be?

There is no reason why Medicare cannot be reformed as a social insurance program. Other industrialized countries provide universal health coverage for their entire populations for a fraction of what we spend in the United States, and those other countries achieve equal or better health outcomes. Surely we can continue to do so for those of retirement age -- if we still want to.

The question to ask Romney is whether he believes in social insurance -- whether his objections to the way Obama has begun to reform Medicare are fiscal or ideological. Ask him and Ryan whether they agree that markets are often efficient but seldom compassionate. Ask him whether he sees the free market as our servant or our master.

Eugene Robinson is an associate editor and columnist for The Washington Post. Email him at eugenerobinson@washpost.com. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/eugenerobinson.

Comments

JV 2 years, 1 month ago

Facts? Facts from whom? Eugene Robinson and the Communist News Network (CNN)? Fact is there is no Ryan plan. Ryan is not running for President. Romney is. And the Romney plan is not the Ryan plan. However, there is in fact an Obama plan. And that plan stinks.

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kevin 2 years, 1 month ago

Facts get int he way? Yes they do when it comes to Liberals. FACT 1: Under Obamacare, Medicare will cut $500 billion on one single item: No more Medicare Advantage programs allowed. Why wasn't this reported by Eugene among the 1,000 words he used to describe this joke of socialized medicine? FACT 2: Medicare has already begun limiting the types of tests that are allowed annually to seniors. Why didn't Eugene mention this Liberal cut?

FACT 3: I have many friends here in Ga. that are from Europe. They all hate the socialized medicine system in their former homelands. Long wait times, lost their favorite doctors (they didn't accept socialized plans), limited services allowed.

I don't need a slanted and lying syndicated columnist to tell me more lies just to support the Liberal Obama ideas.

If Obamacare wanted to be simple and cheap, why didn't the Liberal Democrats just add another letter for the Medicare system (Medicare Part F, for failure), instead of making a 2,500 page (government controlled system) fiasco law. They could let the uninsured get a Medicare card with Part F and have its own rules there. That would have been billions cheaper and easier to get support for. Sorry, but the Democrats are big losers with this health care plan they forced down our throats and will soon be repealed for good.

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FactChecker 2 years, 1 month ago

Let us first address JV's claim that their is not Ryan plan. Romney has, on several occasions, stated support for the majority of Ryan's plan and specifically stated strong support for Ryan's idea of zero taxes on capital gains and a voucher system to be phased in for Medicare. Next the odd claims made by Kevin. On Fact 1. I am curious where he found such a claim because I have found none that made such an extreme claim. I did, however, find where Romney claiming that the Medicare Advantage program would die of its own accord. But that is false. The truth is that the government has been paying more to private insurance companies for people opting to use a Medicare Advantage programn and the health care bill rolls that amount back to an amount closer to the cost of other Medicare benificiaries. This will result in either reduction of profits for private insurance companies, higher premimiums or reduced services but does not kill the program.

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FactChecker 2 years, 1 month ago

Continuing with Kevin's Fact 2, the health care bill specifically states that Medicare services will not be reduced. In fact, they have been expanded for better coverage for preventive health services rendered with annual exams. And in fact 3, I find no way to test your anecdotal method, it is meaningless since we do not have socialized medicine. The health care bill still leaves private insurance companies in competition to get your service. If you wanted to understand the degree of satisfaction with a national health care system, then you need to do separate surveys in each country using a good sampling method. This has been done and most countries show a majority of the people do like their national health care. Every country with a national health care system not only have a lower per capita cost for health care, also the main indicators of good health system are better than the USA. Links: 1 2 3 4

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JV 2 years, 1 month ago

Obama’s Medicare reform plan along with the $716 billion in Medicare cuts creates the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which liberals hope will evolve into a vehicle for rationing care. Today, IPAB’s main power is to shave costs by paying doctors and hospitals less. But that leads doctors to drop out of the program, and stop seeing Medicare patients. Obamacare would slash payment rates for hospitals, so much so that the chief actuary of the program has warned repeatedly that the cuts will jeopardize access to care for seniors. He has estimated that if the cuts go into effect, 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes will have to stop taking Medicare patients to avoid the large financial losses that result from getting paid at Medicare rates. By 2030, some 25 percent of these institutions would need to drop out of the Medicare program.

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FactChecker 2 years ago

Jv takes a partial truth and exaggerates it. This only impacts an unethical increase of charges for a small group of patients temporarily in a nursing home for recovery. In response to JV's erroneous information, here is another link.

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AUfan 2 years ago

Its really very simple. President Obama cut the WASTE and over payments to providers. The Romneyhood/Ryan plan cuts peoples benefits.

Every Fact check site in existence shows this to be true.

This is classic George Orwell by way of Karl Rove. Up is down, black is white, Republicans will save Medicare while Democrats, who invented it and who have fought to sustain it at all costs, want to suddenly destroy it.

The savings will add another 8-10 years of solvency to Medicare without touching benefits. BTW...Medicare Advantage premiums are down and enrollment is up, according to HHS -- hardly indicative of a plan that's suffering due to the ACA. Also, In total so far, 5.2 million Medicare recipients have saved $4 billion on prescription drugs alone because of the dreaded Obamacare legislation. That's $629 per person -- money they would have otherwise had to pay out their own pockets.

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AUfan 2 years ago

Kevin, Yeah, they hate their health care so much in Europe they highlighted it in the Olympic opening ceremony. Another FACT, US ranks well below Europe in healthcare per several studies. Perhaps you should turn off Fox & talk radio and read a book or 2.

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JV 2 years ago

Posting links to left wing media opinions or sources and presenting them as fact is just as bad as this original opinion piece from Robinson.

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JV 2 years ago

Hooray for the left. Tit for tat… whatever. But for a fact the chief actuary of the Medicare program stated that Obamacare would slash payment rates for hospitals, so much that the cuts will jeopardize access to care for seniors. The chief actuary (not a liberal blogger) has estimated that if the cuts go into effect, 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes will have to stop taking Medicare patients to avoid the large financial losses that result from getting paid at Medicare rates. It’s obvious the left is delusional on this matter. But that always been the hallmark of left wing liberal progressives. And they provide little in the way of solving our countries problems.

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Say_that_again 2 years ago

Love the way the right likes to warp information about Obamacare but ignore the facts about the Romney-Ryan plan which is designed to kill medicare. Even if it were a fact that payments that 15% of providers would stop taking Medicare, their are still plenty of qualified providers and we now have a board in place to make the proper payment adjustments. Strange how the right strain so hard to defend the ridiculous positions held by Romney-Ryan.

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