The headlines shouted “Ryan Booed!” after Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan dared to enter the lion’s den of the AARP on Friday to talk about Medicare.
But that was near the beginning of his talk. What wasn’t widely reported is that the boos subsided and the applause increased as he explained how Obamacare harms Medicare and how the Romney/Ryan plan would save it.
“We respect you enough to level with you . . . about the clear choices we face on Medicare, Social Security, the economy, and the kind of country our children will inherit,” Ryan said. “Seniors are threatened by Obamacare, a law that would force steep cuts to real benefits in real time for real people. Meanwhile, younger Americans are burdened by an ever-growing national debt and a diminished future.
“The first step toward a stronger Medicare is to repeal Obamacare,” Mr. Ryan said, precipitating the loud boos from the audience. “I had a feeling there would be mixed reactions so let me get into it.” He then explained in detail the cuts to Medicare which President Obama has signed into law: Obamacare “funnels $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. Second, it puts 15 unelected bureaucrats in charge of Medicare’s future,” he said.
Ryan cited independent experts to document the inescapable truth that Medicare is going bankrupt and will seriously compromise access to care for seniors and the prosperity of future generations if we don’t fix it.
Ryan’s speech followed a video address by President Obama who offered bromides and promises.
And the president was defensive: “When you hear this notion of — that we somehow took $716 billion, robbed it from Medicare beneficiaries and seniors, I want you to know that is simply not true,” he said.
But it is true, which Mr. Obama implicitly acknowledged two sentences later when he said the law does go after “waste and fraud, and overcharging by insurance companies” and claims “Those savings do come out to $716” billion. But the $716 billion comes out of cuts that will have real consequences on access to care for seniors.
Even worse, Obamacare spends the same $716 billion twice — once on the massive new exchange subsidies and another to pretend to extend the life of Medicare. Ryan described “the president’s raid on Medicare”:
“The president said this would actually strengthen the program. He said it would improve the program’s solvency. Ladies and gentlemen, that’s just not true,” Ryan said. “The money wasn’t walled off to stay in Medicare. Instead, the law turned Medicare into a piggy bank for Obamacare.”
In a 2010 interview, the president stated that “You can’t say that you are saving on Medicare and then spend the money twice.” Yet that’s exactly what the law did. And last November, Nancy Pelosi admitted that Democrats “took a half a trillion dollars out of Medicare in the health-care bill” to pay for more federal spending.
“You see, Medicare is going bankrupt,” Ryan said flatly. “Everyone understands this.”
But rather than explaining the very real problem we face and offering solutions, the president preferred to demagogue the Romney/Ryan plan, the basic structure of which has been endorsed by legislators and top health-policy experts from across the ideological spectrum.
Mr. Obama claimed the Romney/Ryan proposal would turn Medicare into a “voucher” program that would raise the cost of care for seniors. The main beneficiaries of this, he said, would be insurance companies.
Surprisingly, the president dropped his earlier criticism that their “voucher” plan would raise health-care costs for seniors by $6,400 a year, an acknowledgement that the charge has been widely discredited and is irrelevant to the Romney/Ryan proposal, as it was a criticism of Ryan’s plan.
Ryan didn’t go after AARP for its hypocrisy, but he could have. The AARP gainshundreds of millions in royalties from marketing private insurance policies to fill Medicare’s gaps. The Romney/Ryan premium-support model would allow seniors to choose a single, comprehensive plan, making the AARP’s cash-cow plans unnecessary.
Clearly, the AARP is not operating in the best interest of its members in strongly backing the current Medicare program, which is on a trajectory to bankruptcy and which threatens seniors’ access to care as physicians, hospitals, and other providers are paid so little they can no longer afford to take Medicare patients.
Ryan further explained the problem and the Romney/Ryan solution:
Our plan keeps the protections that have made Medicare a guaranteed promise for seniors throughout the years. It makes no changes for those in or near retirement.
“Now, in order to save Medicare for future generations, we propose putting 50 million seniors, not 15 unaccountable bureaucrats, in charge of their own health-care decisions.
“Our plan empowers future seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them from a list of plans that are required to offer at least the same level of benefits as traditional Medicare.
And toward the end of the speech, Ryan was gaining applause for the solutions he offered:“Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.”
The contrast was striking: one candidate who has had four years to fix Medicare’s looming bankruptcy and failed to show any leadership, and another who laid out a plan to preserve Medicare for today’s seniors and strengthen it for future generations. Seniors are figuring out which is the better deal.
Posted on National Review Online: The Corner, September 24, 2012.