Was Kathy Hochul’s upset victory in a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district a game changer in attempts to eliminate Medicare for Americans currently under the age of 55? Medicare proved to be the decisive issue in the New York election, giving the Democrats a crucial campaign theme for the 2012 presidential election. The party slammed Republican nominee Jane Corwin for her support of Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) controversial budget plan and its proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system. Corwin lost to Hochul (D-NY) by four points in a Republican-leaning district.
Almost immediately after Hochul was declared the winner, Democrats issued statements crediting her win to opposition to the plan “to end Medicare.” Polling appears to support the Democrats’ approach. A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll determined that 58 percent of the public opposes the plan to change Medicare to a voucher program, while just 35 percent support it. “Our message is simply: Take Medicare off the table,” Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) said.
There is still disagreement across the aisle. According to a senior Republican aide, “Everyone knows that the surest way to destroy Medicare is to pretend like it doesn’t need to be fixed, which is why nearly every Democrat that matters has made clear that Medicare is on the table. But Democrats are in a tough spot. And they’re trying to use Medicare to provide a temporary solution to a much larger political problem they’re facing.” Republicans get “huffy” when you call Ryan’s Medicare plan a voucher scheme, according to the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who points out that they are trying to replace Medicare with “an entirely different program — call it ‘Vouchercare’. According to Krugman, it isn’t “demagoguery, it’s just pointing out the truth.”
Senate Democrats warned after Hochul’s victory that they’d take their Medicare message to the stump in other contentious races, and that is what they’re doing with locally focused ads targeting Nevada, Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plans to “mobilize thousands of online activists,” through ads on Google, Facebook, and other websites, to “stand up for Medicare” by calling on their Republican senators to withdraw their support for changes to Medicare.
Writing in the Columbia Missourian, Joseph Sparks explains the dilemma that turning Medicare into a voucher problem can create for people caught in the middle. “Proponents of Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal have said that people older than 55 would not be affected by his proposal to change Medicare into a voucher system. They forgot about the Medisplit Effect. My wife and I represent the perfect paradigm for this effect. I will be 55 before the end of the year, but my wife is younger. So, while I will get Medicare, my wife, under Ryan’s plan, will get a voucher to buy private insurance, and it will cost my family an extra $6,400 to $7,000 per year after 2022. This Medisplit Effect, depending on the age of someone’s spouse, could still drastically affect people 55 and older. It is disingenuous for Ryan or anybody else to suggest otherwise. After the initial $6,400 hit, the plan’s severe impact on the economic health of future seniors, such as my spouse, just gets worse. Based on a report from the Congressional Budget Office, theCenter for Economic and Policy Research calculated that in 2022, Ryan’s proposal would require that seniors pay 35 percent of their projected median income for health insurance. Since the proposal does not require the government to increase the subsidy enough to match inflation, the percentage of median income required per senior increases to 44 and 68 percent in 2030 and 2050, respectively. Medicare would be ‘saved’ at the expense of seniors being unable to afford it.”
Taking an opposite viewpoint is the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin. In her “Right Turn” column, Rubin says that “Mediscare isn’t working on everyone. Republicans should take heart: There are non-conservatives who are persuadable by reason and specifics. It would be best if they found someone entirely familiar with the facts, calm in his delivery and earnest in his approach to lead their party on this monumentally important issue. Gosh, do we know anyone who fits that bill?”
Jonathan Chait, writing in The New Republic disagrees. According to Chait:
“How are Republicans responding to the unpopularity of the Medicare plan in their budget? Phase one is for anybody not already committed to the plan to slowly, slowly edge toward the door: (Republican presidential candidate Tim) Pawlenty congratulated himself on Tuesday for speaking bold truths. ‘I promised to level with the American people,’ he said. ‘To look them in the eye. And tell them the truth.’ Here’s a truth: The biggest fiscal threat to the country is the exploding growth of healthcare costs, especially through Medicare. Pawlenty’s speech did not mention the word ‘Medicare’ a single time. It will be interesting to see if Republicans let this stand. Pawlenty’s plan involves staggeringly high tax cuts — will that be enough to get him off the hook for leaving healthcare untouched? Phase two is for everybody already committed to Vouchercare to try to get to the left of the Democrats.”