Republican candidates around the nation are running on a platform of repealing health care reform, arguing that "Obamacare" will do nothing to bring down insurance costs and represents a big-government intrusion -- "socialism," if you will -- into an area that should be left to the private markets. At the same time, however, many of these same groups and individuals are rushing to assure the public that they will protect government-funded Medicare program.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released ads attacking three Democratic lawmakers and one candidate for their support of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. They also claim that these candidates have voted for, or would support, cuts to Medicare. Here's the text of the ad, for example, against Kansas House candidate Stephene Moore:
Unemployment. Spending. Debt. Washington's broken. Stephene Moore's policies would make it worse. Moore supports Nancy Pelosi's trillion dollar big-government health care scheme. Worst of all, Stephene Moore supports gutting Medicare by $500 billion. Moore's plan means over 42,000 Kansas seniors face reduced benefits. Government-run health care, Medicare cuts. Tell Stephanie Moore: don't hurt Kansas families. The U.S. Chamber is responsible for the content of this advertising.
In the Nevada Senate debate last week, Republican Sharron Angle also criticized President Obama for his work on health care.
"Obamacare cut a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare right at the point where... senior citizens need to have that Medicare advantage," she said, adding, "The solutions to the health care insurance cost problem are simple, and they reside within the free market. We need to get the government out so we can go across state lines to choose insurance companies. We need to get the government out of the process so we can take off those mandated coverages. We need to get the government out so we can have tort reform and so we can expand the pools."
"[T]hey say there's not enough cost containment in health reform, yet in the next sentence, they say Medicare has been cut too much," noted Chris Jennings, who served as a senior health care adviser to the Clinton White House. "So if you're spending too much and there's not enough cost containment in health care, and then you're getting savings from Medicare, there's this whole question of how you reconcile those two things."
Jennings also pointed to the fact that AARP, which represents millions of senior citizens, endorsed health care reform because it strengthens the Medicare trust fund and looks for new long-term care options. "It's nice for the Chamber to be so concerned about seniors," he said, "but that has never been a big priority of the Chamber previously. On a whole lot of fronts -- including pensions and retiree health and a lot of other things -- they've explicitly embraced the ability for employers to drop retiree health care coverage altogether."
The Angle campaign didn't respond to a request for comment, but Chamber spokesman J.P. Fielder said there was no inconsistency in the organization's ads. "It is perfectly consistent to oppose a massive expansion of government involvement in health care, while also opposing taking $500 billion from Medicare to pay for this expansion," he said.
Edwin Park, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities co-director of health policy, took issue with the claim that health care reform cut Medicare, calling the notion a "short-term political strategy."
"It scaled back overpayments, tried to institute efficiencies, tried to use Medicare as a leader in how health care is delivered, but didn't make cuts to benefits, per se," said Park. "And so there's a lot of that being characterized as cuts. But at the same time, Republicans and conservatives over the years have been pretty clear -- most recently in the Paul Ryan plan -- that they want to voucherize Medicare, that they want to change it to a voucher program, where you get a voucher to purchase health coverage on your own in the private insurance market rather than going through the traditional Medicare program."
This current debate is, in many ways, an extension of what was happening in summer 2009, when the infamous health care town hall (and the ensuing protests) were going on around the country. Many senior citizens were nervous about more federal involvement in health care precisely because they enjoyed their government-funded Medicare so much and didn't want it cut back.
UPDATE: Via Ben Smith at Politico, an ad by Tennessee Republican congressional candidate Charlotte Bergmann, which states, "After $500 billion is cut out of Medicare, doctors say they will begin refusing patients -- all to help pay for government control of medicine."
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