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Difference Between Republicans and Democrats on Medicare: None

by Timothy Troutner, published

As November approaches, the political debate in this nation is focused on issues parties hope will resonate with voters. All too often, these issues are not central to the ideological differences between the parties, but a reflection of talking points that fire up the base and make an impact in the media. This year, one of these issues that has become a partisan squabble is the alleged $716 billion the Democrats took from Medicare to pay for the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's health care law. The allegation is that the Democrats are raiding Medicare and the elderly to pay for their own pet program. The truth is that the difference between Republicans and Democrats on Medicare is none. According to CNN, Paul Ryan said:

"Here's what the president won't tell you about his Medicare plan, about Obamacare. The president raids $716 billion from the Medicare program to pay for the Obamacare program."

President Obama's campaign has defended against this oblique attack on Obamacare by pointing out the details of the estimate, and that the Ryan plan would do the same thing. According to CNN, Lis Smith, a campaign spokesperson:

"The savings his ad attacks do not cut a single guaranteed Medicare benefit, and Mitt Romney embraced the very same savings when he promised he'd sign Paul Ryan's budget."

What are the facts surrounding this contested $716 billion? The number itself comes from  CBO estimate, which found that:

"[With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act] Spending for Medicare would increase by an estimated $716 billion over that 2013–2022 period."

The number itself is correct. As a result of Obamacare, $716 billion less will be going to various parts of the Medicare program. This could be considered a cut, or slowing the growth of a program. Kaiser Health News has the details:

"[B]efore the health law was passed, Medicare was expected to grow by 6.8 percent a year for 2010 through 2019.  With the health law, that yearly growth rate is projected to be 5.6 percent during that same time frame, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation."

The claim that the elderly will now receive less money than before is misleading. The "cut" was simply the adjustment to the budget based on the changes in the Affordable Care Act. In short, the cuts are not directed at benefits to the elderly. The details demonstrate that the "cuts" are a mixed bag. Kaiser Health News continues:

"The July report from CBO and JCT -- in explaining where some of the biggest reductions would occur --found that hospital reimbursements would be reduced by $260 billion from 2013-2022, while federal payments to Medicare Advantage, the private insurance plans in Medicare, would be cut by approximately $156 billion.  Other Medicare spending reductions include $39 billion less for skilled nursing services; $66 billion less for home health and $17 billion less for hospice. The law does not make any cuts to the amount of benefits beneficiaries receive..."

While  the rate of growth will slow, what has traditionally been classified as Medicare spending will continue to expand under Obamacare. It may very well be true that the money will not go to the exact same recipients as the Medicare funding would have, but it will still go to the administration of another health care system.

If Republicans oppose government-run healthcare, they should oppose both Obamacare and Medicare. The massive divide on principles and policy that the two-party system wants to portray does not exist, and the debate over $716 billion exemplifies the shallowness of debate. This is because the $716 billion is simply a "disagreement" between the Democrats and Republicans over which account the debit card should have access to.

Romney and Obama are fighting over which entitlement health care program will receive the money. Both parties believe in government-run health care. Elections are held to find out who will run it. In a battle with billions at stake, at least they should be fair and honest when making representations to the American voters.

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