Editorial: Medicare claims skew the truth

Published 9:43 am Monday, September 10, 2012

It’s easy pickins’ — scaring seniors in an election year. But both Romney and Obama campaigns seems to have little hesitation when it comes to their claims of how the other side will destroy Medicare.

The Obama campaign claims the Romney/Ryan ticket will “end Medicare as we know it.” The Romney campaign has claimed Obama cut $700 billion in Medicare benefits to pay for its health care overhaul.

The independent, nonpartisan FactCheck.org has debunked both claims. And there have been others. All play loose with the facts and strong on fear on this important issue.

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Ironically, both sides and Medicare experts acknowledge Medicare is in trouble. The cost trends are not sustainable. The higher costs of health care and the growth of people who will be eligible has put the solvency of Medicare hospital coverage with current funding streams at about 12 years from now.

Both campaigns have serious people working for them to come up with solutions to reining in future cost growth. Both have plans to cut the program’s future spending growth. They seem unwilling to share this hard truth with seniors.

Even the former head of the General Accountability Office, David Walker, who has been pushing for such reality checks across the country says “there’s too much spinning and mudslinging going on.”

For years part of Medicare (the hospital care) has been funded with a Medicare payroll tax that employers and employees pay. But over the years, the tax has been raised several times to shore up the program. It started out in the 1960s at 0.35 percent of a certain level of wages. It is now up to 1.45 percent. And the amount of taxable wages also has gone up and the self-employed must pay 2.9 percent.

Those taxes fund part of Medicare through the insurance trust, but the rest of Medicare, doctor visits and prescription drugs for example, are paid for with general fund dollars. Those costs are also rising rapidly and will ultimately leave any administration with the choices of raising revenues or cutting benefits.

While both campaigns suggest “today’s seniors” will be cut off or otherwise hurt by their opponents’ plan, experts who’ve studied each plan say very little would change for people already on Medicare. They may be indirectly impacted, but claims that suggest benefits will be cut next year are not credible.

Ultimately, both parties need to reduce the inaccuracies of their claims on the other and have a good debate about the likelihood of solutions. Tomorrow’s seniors — all of us — will soon realize this is too important an issue to be left to the political spin of the campaigns.

— Mankato Free Press, Sept. 4

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