Obama and Romney both aim to slow Medicare spending. But each accuses the other of hurting seniors in the process.
The presidential campaign is overflowing with claims from both sides designed to scare seniors into thinking Medicare is being gutted or about to end altogether. Lost in the flurry of attack ads and political messaging is a policy debate on how best to reduce the growth of Medicare spending, a common goal of both campaigns. If all voters know about Medicare is what the candidates tell them in TV spots and stump speeches, they are going to be poorly prepared to understand the changes that could be coming, no matter which party wins the White House.
Among the many "Mediscare" claims:
An Obama spokeswoman says that "benefits would go down" under the Medicare plan put forth by Ryan, and largely embraced by Romney. Ryan says cuts in Obama's health care law to the growth of spending "will lead to fewer services for seniors." But actually, neither plan has much of a direct impact on current beneficiaries.
A Romney campaign ad wrongly claims that "money you paid" for Medicare is being used to pay for Obama's health care law. But the law doesn't take money out of the existing hospital insurance trust fund. It cuts the future growth of spending. And in the future, seniors will still receive more in benefits than they paid in.
Obama says Ryan's "original plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year." But that's based on an outdated analysis; Ryan’s current plan is more generous than his first. In fact, over the long run, both men propose capping the growth of Medicare spending at the same rate.
"There's too much spinning and mud-slinging going on," says David Walker, a former head of the Government Accountability Office, "and not enough focus on substance and solutions."
Medicare spending is on an unsustainable path. Adequately funding the program has been a political challenge almost since its inception. As it stands, Medicare can't cover all promised benefits without either more revenue or reduced spending. And both campaigns have proposed ways to solve that problem.
But there are reasons to doubt that either approach will work....
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