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Vice Presidential Debate: Medicare, Social Security and Other Issues That Matter to Mid-Lifers

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VICE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE MEDICARE
AP

Who's worried about Medicare? Please raise your arthritic hand. That's likely the same hand you will be using for voting and given that people age 45 and older, for the first time, constitute a majority of the voting age public -- 51 percent -- that should count for something.

Thursday's vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman -- whoops, Mr. -- Paul Ryan gave mid-lifers a whole bunch of facts for the fact-checkers to sort out on the issues directly impacting the demographic -- even if we had to stay up past our bedtime to hear them.

Here are some post-debate thoughts for your morning coffee:

1) Lots was said -- OK, shouted -- about fixing Medicare. Could this be the issue over which generational warfare is declared? While not much new was said, Biden said it better than Obama did last week. Biden repeated how by stopping overpayments to providers, the Obama plan will save $716 billion and extend the life of Medicare to 2024; Ryan wants to use a voucher-like program to shift care to private insurers and says the $716 billion was raided from Medicare to fund Obamacare.

When Ryan was describing his plan, I was reminded of an article by Nick Gillespie and Veronique de Rugy last summer, which lobbed a grenade at the Me Generation and called for Medicare and Social Security to be eliminated. Radical stuff for anyone over 50 to hear.

2) At least in this debate, Ryan didn't parrot Romney's prediction that the Democrats' plan would push 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes and 50 percent of doctors to stop taking new Medicare patients. I was grateful for that. Since older people pretty much are the bulk of nursing home and hospital admissions, it sounded kind of out of whack. But kudos to whoever first dubbed the Republicans' tactic "Mediscare." Ryan clearly played the Chicken Little card well. "If we don't shore up Social Security, when we run out of the IOUs, when the program goes bankrupt, a 25 percent across-the-board benefit cut kicks in on current seniors in the middle of their retirement," Ryan said.

3) Understanding the GOP ticket's Medicare model is tricky. Ryan's penchant for wonkiness didn't fail him here. He threw out numbers faster than this mid-lifer's brain could process them, but maybe that was the point? Basically, it gives seniors a check and sends them off into the private marketplace. Whose plan is better? Biden scoffed and said, "Who [do] you believe, the AMA, me -- a guy who's fought his whole life for this -- or somebody who would actually put in motion a plan that knowingly cut -- added $6,400 a year more to the cost of Medicare?"

Still confused? You are probably not alone. Check out what veteran health care reporter Trudy Lieberman says here. She's an equal-opportunity plan-basher and says both Obamacare and what's embodied in Ryan's "path to prosperity" budget would reduce benefits and increase costs for seniors.

4) Vice President Biden guaranteed us that there will be no privatization of Social Security. Obama, too, during the parts of the first presidential debate when he managed to stay awake, said Social Security would be "tweaked" and only slightly at that. Ryan, a former Social Security recipient himself, is on record supporting privatizing Social Security, as is Gov. Romney. Doesn't this come down to shrinking government? Great idea on paper, but with so many Americans relying on Social Security as the only thing that comes between them and cat-food dinners, maybe this isn't the part of government to shrink?

5) Jobs matter to mid-lifers. This is the demographic that got slammed by the recession along with everyone else but has fewer years left in their working life to recover their losses. Their home equity was wiped out, and their 401(k) funds crashed along with the stock market. Where was the debate talk about age discrimination in the workplace? Those job creation numbers everyone tosses around -- how many will be minimum-wage entry-level jobs? Too old to dig ditches and too unhip to work at Starbucks, that's how many mid-lifers see their plight. Some re-careering training might be nice too.

Ryan noted that "job growth in September was slower than it was in August, and August was slower than it was in July." He said, "We're heading in the wrong direction; 23 million Americans are struggling for work today; 15 percent of Americans are living in poverty today. This is not what a real recovery looks like." Couldn't agree more, but maybe tell us a little more about your plan to create jobs.

6) Style vs. substance? While the ever-quotable South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian predicted that Biden would take "the old meat-ax" to Ryan, Biden's eye-rolling, snide laughter and 82 interruptions, grew old fast. It took Ryan some time to warm up and smack him back, but he did. Maybe the thing to remember is that we don't want to elect the best debater; we want to elect the candidates with the best ideas for economic recovery.

7) Joe Biden is 69; Paul Ryan is 42. Ryan was 6 years old when Biden was first elected to the Senate. Wrap your head around that for a minute.

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