House Republicans, facing tough questions in their districts for voting to phase out Medicare and replace it with a subsidized private insurance system, are fond of pointing out that the plan they support wouldn’t touch benefits for existing beneficiaries, or for people who will reach eligibility within 10 years. There are a number of problems with that plan, but top Democrats are finally pointing out the biggest one: it’s simply not true.
Though many Republicans are getting jittery about their budget’s Medicare plan, they’re still perfectly proud of the fact that it also repeals the new health care law. But that law includes plenty of goodies for current seniors, all of which would be zapped immediately if Republicans get their way.
“The Affordable Care Act this year added an annual wellness benefit to the guaranteed benefit that seniors have,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius at a Capitol press conference Thursday.
It takes a huge step in closing the donut hole, 50 percent this year of the cost of drugs purchased in the coverage gap would disappear, and over time the whole coverage gap would disappear. Seniors now qualify for screenings — cancer screenings, mammograms, a variety of preventive care without copays out of pocket. That would disappear. A lot of new anti-fraud rules — building a kind of system that can identify fraud at the front end, strike-forces that are now in 10 cities across this country, on the ground, going after people who would steal out of the Medicare trust fund. All of that would go away this year.
A smaller category of Medicare beneficiary would also see additional benefit cuts right away. So-called “dual-eligibles” — people who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid — would lose the new Medicare benefits under the health care law and see their Medicaid benefits slashed instantly. The House GOP budget cuts and caps Medicaid spending and turns it into a block grant program to be administered differently in each state.
“Medicaid cuts would start right away, so those seniors would be the first to be impacted,” Sebelius added. “The voucher plan doesn’t hit for 10 years, but not only do the new benefits for every senior go away, but the dually-qualified seniors — the poorest, oldest, sickest seniors, who are often in nursing homes, would have their benefits cut immediately.”
Republicans have been using the 10-year buffer to protect themselves from attacks from current seniors ever since they unveiled the plan earlier this year. Democrats have been slow to point out that the argument is false.
“What the Republicans are saying — that this won’t affect seniors now, that the cuts are all off in future years — is flat out false,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). “In the reform bill that we passed, we solved, over time, the problem of the Donut Hole — the dreaded coverage gap that seniors fall into when their prescriptions can’t be paid for any longer. That solution to the donut hole problem gets repealed by the Ryan budget. And that will hit home right away to seniors in Rhode Island and seniors across this country.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.