KNAU and Arizona News
4:00 am
Tue September 4, 2012

Medicare Will Likely Pull Voters to the Polls

One of the central battles playing out in the upcoming elections is who’s got the best plan for Medicare.

Medicare is the health care system for retirees.

And like Social Security, it needs some attention if it’s going to survive the coming decades.

The debate over which plan is best for seniors has taken center stage in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District race.

During last week’s GOP Convention, Vice Presidential nominee, Paul Ryan repeated a charge that’s been heard many times this election cycle.

“$716 billion funneled out of Medicare by President Obama (crowd boos) an obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed," Ryan told the crowd.

As many observers have noted, despite his outrage, Representative Ryan supports those same $716 billion savings.

But he is not the only one to make the charge.

Candidates across the county have repeated it.

Locally, Jonathan Paton, a candidate for Congress from Arizona’s 1st District has picked up the banner.

“We cannot cut benefits to people who put their entire uh, basically their payroll taxes into this system. It’s wrong to cut that," he said.

And since the democrat in that race, Ann Kirkpatrick, voted for the Affordable Care Act, Paton levels the charge at her too.

He’s sent out material saying the Kirkpatrick cuts raiding Medicare are just the beginning.

Kirkpatrick says the Affordable Care Act isn’t perfect but she stands by her vote.

And she says, Jonathan Paton is just not being honest to seniors.

“It’s not only false, but it’s hypocritical," she said. "The cuts were subsidies to insurance companies. They don’t cut any benefits.  So he keeps repeating this lie even though several news outlets and independent groups like Politifact have debunked it.”

Politifact has called the claim “mostly false.”

FactCheck.org says the President’s changes to Medicare actually prolong the life of the program.

And here’s the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Tricia Newman:

She’s the Foundation’s Medicare expert.

“Medicare has actually been overpaying for private insurance plans that contract with Medicare and Medicare’s been losing money," she said. "So the President’s plan responds to concerns about overpayments by reducing the growth in payments to those plans. “

Those private insurance plans are part of what’s called Medicare Advantage.

It’s like health insurance through private companies.

But the Federal government pays those companies a certain amount per beneficiary.

And like private health insurance, the companies can charge co-pays and offer different services.

Kaiser’s Tricia Neuman says by law, they have to offer what regular Medicare provides.

“But they may end up cutting extra benefits they’ve been able to provide in the past because of the generous payments from the government," she said.

The federal government pays those companies about 14% more per beneficiary than they pay for regular medicare recipients.

The $716 billion also comes from reductions in the growth of payments to hospitals, skilled nursing homes and other providers.

Opponents to the President’s health care plan, republicans like Jonathan Paton, say those cuts will mean reductions in services.

“If your doctor is not going to be reimbursed, he’s going to turn you away, and you’re not going to get your care," he said.

But Ritch Steven, formerly with AARP Arizona says this law has no effect on doctor reimbursement.

It affects reimbursements to hospitals and nursing homes.

And Steven says, by and large those organizations supported the payment reductions.

“I can’t tell you that every hospital, every nursing home, every home health agency, thinks this is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I can tell you the major trade organizations that represented all of those providers supported those reductions," Steven said.

Why?

They traded reductions in the growth of Medicare reimbursements for a new reality.

That reality is that most everyone else would have to carry health insurance.

And that means those same hospitals wouldn’t have to take the hit every time they care for the uninsured.  

The charges by republicans, like Jonathan Paton, that democrats want to cut Medicare will likely resound this election cycle.

The reason:  about 17% of AZ’s population is 60 or older.  And they vote.

“Paton is very clearly trying to very clearly define himself and make a name for himself, said Professor Fred Solop who teaches Political Science at Northern Arizona University.

“He’s trying to get people interested in his campaign and he’s trying to get those voters out," Solop added. "So he’s looked at the polling numbers and seen that medicare resonates with his base.  He needs to turn those voters out.”

Last February, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that 70% of Americans want to keep Medicare just as it is.

If a politician can convince voters that the system is in danger, it might just drive them to the polls.