GOP’s Latest Campaign Punch On Health Care Returns To Medicare
Once again, Medicare is moving front and center in this fall’s campaigns.
Throughout the election season, Democrats have been criticizing Republicans over votes and lawsuits that would eliminate insurance protections for pre-existing conditions for consumers.
But now Republicans are working to change the health care conversation with a tried-and-true technique used by both parties over the years: telling seniors their Medicare coverage may be in danger.
It’s not yet clear, however, whether these dependable voters are responding to the warning.
Republicans charge that Democrats’ support for expanding Medicare would threaten the viability of the program for the seniors who depend on it.
“The Democrats’ plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised,” President Trump wrote in a guest column for USA Today on Oct. 10. “Under the Democrats’ plan, today’s Medicare would be forced to die.” The column was filled with false and unsubstantiated claims, as NPR’s Scott Horsley reported.
In a speech to the National Press Club on Oct. 8, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said almost exactly the same thing. “Democrats call it ‘Medicare-for-all’ because it sounds good, but in reality, it actually ends Medicare in its current form,” Ryan said.
It’s a sentiment being expressed by Republicans up and down the ballot. In New Jersey, where Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber is running for an open U.S. House seat, he enlisted his elderly father in one of his ads. After the candidate notes that his opponent is “interested” in Medicare-for-all, Webber’s father, Jim Webber, says, “That would end Medicare as we know it.”
Fact-checkers have repeatedly challenged these claims. Health insurance analyst Linda Blumberg of the Urban Institute told PolitiFact that suggesting Medicare-for-all would disrupt current enrollees’ coverage is a “horrible mischaracterization of the proposal.” Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column noted that a leading proposal “in theory would expand benefits for seniors.”
And Democrats are far from united on the topic of expanding Medicare, but that is not preventing Republicans from suggesting that they are. In New Jersey, Webber’s Democratic opponent, Mikie Sherrill, is actually not one of the many Democrats who have specifically endorsed the idea of “Medicare-for-all.”
The reason Republicans are pushing the Medicare issue this fall, says Harvard public health professor and polling expert Robert Blendon, is because “people over 60 are very high-turnout voters,” particularly in nonpresidential election years like 2018. (Blendon works with NPR on polls conducted in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.)
Issues involving Medicare and Social Security can motivate those older voters even more, says Blendon, “because they are so dependent on [those programs] for the rest of their lives. Retirees are very scared about outliving their benefits.”
Medicare is often a rallying cry for politicians from both parties during elections.