Mitt Romney tries to explain Medicare stance
By: Ginger Gibson
August 16, 2012 03:32 PM EST
Mitt Romney attempted on Thursday to boil down his Medicare plan to a simple explanation: “No change” and “Solvent.”
Those were the words he scrawled on a whiteboard at a last-minute news conference in Greer, S.C. this afternoon as he attempted to address questions about whether his plan is identical to that of Paul Ryan’s. Romney chose Ryan as his running mate last weekend, and the Wisconsin lawmaker is best known for a budget-slashing effort that would convert Medicare into a voucher program for some future seniors.
“I know there’s an effort by some people to try and bring as much confusion to the topic of Medicare as possible,” Romney said. “But I want to bring as much clarity as possible, so I’ve prepared a small chart here, which will describe differences in our respective plans for Medicare.”
But after the 10-minute and 11-second news conference, Romney shed no new light on how he would overhaul the 47-year-old federal health care program for senior citizens and how (or if) his program differs from that of his running mate’s much-maligned proposal that is part of an effort to slash the federal budget deficit.
Asked afterward to provide as much detail and specifics as possible about Romney’s Medicare plan, his campaign provided a link to a one-page website with a 907-word explanation (shorter than the length of this article) that included an introduction, seven key elements and a frequently asked questions section. It also forwarded a speech Romney gave on fiscal policy in November.
Ryan’s plan keeps the $700 billion cut to the Medicare trust fund that Romney has said recently that he opposes. Ryan also would convert Medicare into a voucher-like program in 2023, while Romney doesn’t provide a date. While Romney’s program would be means tested, giving more money to those who are poorer, Ryan’s plan includes a proposal to allow more government assistance to those who get sicker.
Finally, Ryan’s plan requires that private insurance companies have a certain financial obligation to their customers, while Romney’s plan would offer recipients similar services as they receive under Medicare, a distinction that could allow insurance companies under Ryan’s plan to offer gym memberships in place of medical procedures.
Ryan’s plan also provides more details on the voucher, or “premium assistance” process, outlining in more depth what type of insurance would be provided and how the vouchers would be calculated.
Since picking Ryan as his running mate, Romney has tried to put distance between his plan and the controversial proposal of the Wisconsin congressman.
“My plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan for Medicare,” Romney said Monday at a news conference in Miami.
But he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — distinguish them specifically.
“We haven’t gone through piece by piece and said, ‘Oh here’s a place where there’s a difference,’” Romney said. “I can’t imagine any two people even in the same party who have exactly the same positions on all issues.”
Romney hasn’t always put that much space between his own proposal and Ryan’s.
“As President, Mitt Romney Would Sign The Ryan Plan,” a Romney news release announced in December 2011.
“On health care, Romney responded ‘yes’ when asked if he would sign the plan written by Rep. Paul Ryan that would restructure Medicare if it reached his desk as President, but quickly added that he would be offering his own plan,” the campaign was quoted as saying in a June 6, 2011 ABC News article.
The bulk of Romney’s discussion on Medicare has been focused on casting President Barack Obama as an enemy of the program without delving into too much detail of his own.
The material provided by the Romney campaign includes seven “key points,” most of which Romney reviewed during his white-board news conference.
• Nothing would change for current Medicare recipients or those about to retire.
• The program would switch to a voucher program that allows recipients to buy their own health insurance.
• Romney would require all insurance companies to offer coverage comparable to current Medicare coverage.
• Any senior who buys a more expensive plan would have to do so out-of-pocket. And anyone who buys a cheaper plan could use the rest of the voucher for other medical expenses.
• The government will continue to offer Medicare as an option for purchase, like other private insurance coverage. If the government-run program costs more, seniors will have to pay the difference.
• Low-income seniors will get larger vouchers and wealthy seniors will receive smaller vouchers.
The final point, that competition will drive down the cost, is less a plan element and more of an argument in favor of the voucher structure.
What Romney’s outline doesn’t include is a total-savings estimate, cost estimates for changing the plan, an age cutoff for when it would be implemented, how the vouchers would be administered, how the government-controlled plan would be administered or what effect his proposals would have on the deficit or current budget.
Aiming to make the explanation simple in Greer on Thursday, Romney drew a grid on a white board with “Romney” and “Obama” along the top and “Seniors” and “Next Gen” along the side.
“No change,” Romney said as he wrote the words on the board under the square labeled “Romney” and “Seniors.”
He added: “The plan stays the same, no adjustments, no changes, no savings.”
Under the square labeled “Obama” and “Seniors,” Romney wrote “$716 B,” saying that is how much the president has cut from the Medicare trust fund. Under that he wrote “4 million,” pointing to a Medicare actuary study saying that many people would lose coverage under the Obama cuts. And finally he wrote “16 percent,” citing a study that said 16 percent of hospitals would stop taking Medicare because of changes to the program.
“This is the plan [Democrats have] chosen, some 4 million seniors will lose their Medicare plan,” Romney said.
On the half of the board described as “Next Gen,” Romney laid out his prediction for the plan’s future.
In the “Obama” square, Romney wrote “Bankrupt.”
“The Medicare trustees have notified the president that the plan will go bankrupt, Medicare part A, in the next 12 years,” Romney said.
In the “Romney” square, the nominee wrote “Solvent.”
“Under the plan that I proposed, it is solvent,” he said.
He then drew lines under both words.
“So the difference in our Medicare plan couldn’t be more stark and dramatic and I think as the people, the seniors in America understand what the president is doing to Medicare, they’re going to find it unacceptable and we’re going to get a lot of support for people who think Medicare should be protected for current seniors.”