WASHINGTON -- In a speech Wednesday, Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney attacked President Barack Obama's signature health care policy by falsely claiming that Obama "has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it."
Romney's speech before the American Society of News Editors was clearly an effort to turn the tables after Obama's own speech before the group on Tuesday, in which the president strongly criticized the federal budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Ryan budget would cut Medicare and convert it into a voucher program, cut food stamps and health insurance for poor children, and provide large tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. Romney recently called the budget "marvelous."
"He has taken a series of steps that end Medicare as we know it," Romney said Wednesday, referring to Obama. "He is the only president to ever cut $500 billion from Medicare. And, as a result, more than half of doctors say they will cut back on treating seniors."
Democrats have scored political gains by using that same phrase -- "end Medicare as we know it" -- to attack the Republicans who have voted for or endorsed the budget proposed by Ryan last year. An April 2011 Wall Street Journal story reported, "The plan would essentially end Medicare," because it would replace the existing government insurance for seniors with vouchers for private insurance. Ryan recently rolled out a similar budget proposal, which would give seniors the option to select vouchers, but would not eliminate the government insurance. Because the vouchers would not track projected increases in health care costs, many economists have criticized the plan for cutting benefits to seniors.
Romney himself has suggested giving seniors the option to receive Ryan-like vouchers in lieu of Medicare, but has not proposed ending the government insurance plan.
As for the president, Obama's health care law does cut Medicare by $500 billion over 10 years. The largest reduction comes from a program called Medicare Advantage, which has had trouble controlling costs. All the money cut from Medicare is shifted to providing insurance to people who do not have it, by strengthening Medicaid -- a government health insurance program for poor families -- and by helping others purchase private insurance plans.
Romney has repeatedly said he wants to reduce Medicaid and turn over control of the program to the states.
In Wednesday's speech, Romney characterized Obama's effort to restrain costs in Medicare Advantage as "destroying the program."
"He is destroying the Medicare Advantage program, eliminating the coverage that millions of seniors depend on and reducing choice by two-thirds," Romney said. "To control Medicare costs, he has created an unelected, unaccountable panel with the power to prevent Medicare from providing certain treatments. The result will be fewer treatments and services available to patients in need."
Versions of these talking points were laid out in a Romney campaign memo that HuffPost obtained in March. The "unaccountable board" is a reference to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel tasked with identifying cost savings for Medicare without lowering the quality of care. Republicans have supported the idea in the past.