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Presidential Debates: Where Exactly is That Medicare Cut?

PHOTO: President and Democratic Nominee, Barack Obama. Courtesy: Whitehouse.gov
PHOTO: President and Democratic Nominee, Barack Obama. Courtesy: Whitehouse.gov
October 11, 2012

RALEIGH, N.C. - Proposed cuts to Medicare were a major point of contention in the first presidential debate, and they are likely to be a heated issue in tonight's debate between the vice presidential candidates.

In the first debate, Republican challenger Mitt Romney warned that re-electing President Obama means "a $716 billion cut to Medicare." But Paul Van de Water. senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says what's being reduced under the Affordable Care Act are overpayments to private Medicare Advantage plans and the rate of growth in payments to health-care providers.

"None of this involves actually reducing the benefits that Medicare beneficiaries will receive, in terms of doctor's visits and hospital stays and nursing home stays."

Romney argues that up to 4 million Americans could lose their Medicare Advantage plans. Van de Water says the budget proposal made by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., included the same reductions in provider payments and Medicare Advantage as does Obamacare, but now as the vice presidential nominee, Ryan has indicated he will follow the Romney plan.

Stephen Gorin, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says all sides in this debate need to remember the gains that many folks in New Hampshire have made under the Affordable Care Act.

"It's provided free wellness and preventive-service benefits to older adults and, in addition, it begins closing the Medicare prescription drug 'doughnut hole,' which so many older adults are concerned about."

Whether you call them cuts or savings, Van de Water says, Medicare actuaries say those that were built into the Affordable Care Act are expected to extend the life of the program through 2024.

"The savings are legitimately viewed as making the program run more efficiently and, very importantly, these savings extend the life of the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund by eight years."

Conversely, Van de Water says Romney's pledge to kill Obamacare could shorten the life of the trust fund, with it running out of funds as soon as 2016.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC