Saturday, August 25, 2012

This Morning President Obama Talked About Saving Medicare-- And Buck McKeon Talked About Destroying It


Dr. Lee Rogers with his new-born daughter, Lily, now 3 months old

President Harry Truman first proposed Medicare in 1945. Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats fought it bitterly for two decades before President Lyndon Johnson signed it-- and Medicaid-- into law on July 30, 1965, part of the Great Society. Harry Truman was the first person to enroll. It finally passed because the Republicans were allowed to water it down but even then only 13 Republican senators voted for it. 17 voted NO and 2 didn't vote. 7 Democrats also opposed it but 57 voted YES. In the House half the Republicans voted YES (70) and 68 voted NO and 2 didn't vote. 237 Democrats voted YES and 48, mostly southern racists who soon joined the GOP, opposed it. Almost 50 years have passed since then and the Democrats are still trying to improve it and make it more accessible-- while the GOP is as determined as ever to destroy it.

This morning, President Obama addressed the nation and talked exclusively about Medicare, primarily because the Republicans have been making a lot of false accusations, as always, and he was concerned that there's a lot of "misinformation flying around."
This week, we found out that, thanks to the health care law we passed, nearly 5.4 million seniors with Medicare have saved over $4.1 billion on prescription drugs. That’s an average of more than $700 per person. And this year alone, 18 million seniors with Medicare have taken advantage of preventive care benefits like mammograms or other cancer screenings that now come at no extra cost.
That’s progress. It means that seniors everywhere are getting the care they need for less. And if you have questions about what benefits you’re entitled to, you can go to to find out.
This news is also a reminder of what’s really at stake when we talk about the future of Medicare. It’s not about overheated rhetoric at election time. It’s about a promise this country made to our seniors that says if you put in a lifetime of hard work, you shouldn’t lose your home or your life savings just because you get sick.
Over the last 47 years, millions of Americans have worked for that promise. They’ve earned it. And for many seniors, the care they’ve gotten through Medicare has made all the difference in the world. 
Growing up as the son of a single mother, I was raised with the help of my grandparents. I saw how important things like Medicare and Social Security were in their lives. And I saw the peace of mind it gave them. 
That’s why, as President, my goal has been to strengthen these programs now, and preserve them for future generations. Because today’s seniors deserve that same peace of mind. And the millions of Americans who are working hard right now deserve to know that the care they need will be available when they need it.
That’s why, as part of the Affordable Care Act, we gave seniors deeper discounts on prescription drugs, and made sure preventive care like mammograms are free without a co-pay. We’ve extended the life of Medicare by almost a decade. And I’ve proposed reforms that will save Medicare money by getting rid of wasteful spending in the health care system and reining in insurance companies-- reforms that won’t touch your guaranteed Medicare benefits. Not by a single dime.
Republicans in Congress have put forward a very different plan. They want to turn Medicare into a voucher program. That means that instead of being guaranteed Medicare, seniors would get a voucher to buy insurance, but it wouldn’t keep up with costs. As a result, one plan would force seniors to pay an extra $6,400 a year for the same benefits they get now. And it would effectively end Medicare as we know it.
I think our seniors deserve better. I’m willing to work with anyone to keep improving the current system, but I refuse to do anything that undermines the basic idea of Medicare as a guarantee for seniors who get sick.
Here in America, we believe in keeping our promises-- especially to our seniors who have put in a lifetime of hard work and deserve to enjoy their golden years. That’s what Medicare is all about. That’s why we need to strengthen and preserve it for future generations. And as long as I have the honor of serving as your President, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Blue America has endorsed four physicians running for Congress this year, Dr. Syed Taj (D-MI), Dr. Matt Heinz (D-AZ), Dr. David Gill (D-IL) and Dr. Lee Rogers (D-CA). On Friday Lee's opponent, anti-health care fanatic Buck McKeon addressed seniors in Santa Clarita and spread around more of the lies and misinformation President Obama was alluding to. Lee, a distinguished surgeon at Valley Presbyterian Hospital, one of the largest acute care hospitals in California, had a different way of addressing the issue from the president. He looks at it, first and foremost as a doctor who deals with patients-- and with insurance companies.
“Right now Congressman McKeon is addressing local seniors at the Santa Clarita Senior Center about Medicare. Let’s hope he’s apologizing for voting multiple times to end Medicare as we know it. Those are strong words, but they’re true. McKeon supports a plan to replace automatic enrollment in Medicare at age 65 with a voucher that forces seniors into the private market at the mercy of private insurers. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan McKeon voted for would cause seniors to spend $6,400 more per year out of pocket on their health care. Nearly half of America’s seniors live on less than $18,000 per year. We can’t expect seniors to be able to afford this drastic change. The reason why we started Medicare was because private insurers were taking advantage of seniors. McKeon talks about death panels, but there would be no greater death panel than a private insurer throwing up roadblocks and delays for seniors’ health care. Medicare doesn’t do this.
“McKeon criticizes the Affordable Care Act for reducing Medicare costs by $716 billion over 10 years. But there are absolutely no cuts to seniors’ benefits. McKeon’s criticism is disingenuous because the plan he voted for called for many of the same reductions. Much of these savings would come from reducing overpayments to private insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program. Taxpayers spend about 14% for health services when they are covered by Medicare Advantage, as opposed to traditional Medicare. McKeon supports a plan that restores these overpayments to insurers.
“The difference is that President Obama’s plan uses the savings to strengthen Medicare by closing the prescription drug donut hole and waiving co-payments for preventative services, like mammograms. The plan McKeon supports would increase costs to current seniors immediately by making them pay more for their medications and restore co-payments for preventative services. That’s not a change for people younger than 55, that’s an increased cost for beneficiaries now.

“I’m a doctor. A majority of my patients are on Medicare. I know what it’s like to suffer, waiting for private insurers to authorize services. Medicare provides needed health care to seniors who don’t have time to wait. Budgets have a lot of numbers and are confusing, but they represent priorities. McKeon’s votes indicate his priorities are to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires while seniors pay more for their health care. Instead, I will prioritize our seniors, by keeping their costs low and strengthening Medicare by reducing waste. Supporting Medicare is not a partisan issue. I call on Representative McKeon to denounce the Romney-Ryan plan to dismantle Medicare just like his Republican colleague, Congressional candidate Tony Strickland, has done in the neighboring Ventura County district.”

Let me just end this post with part of a memo from Carville-Greenberg, a Democratic consulting firm, which asserts that Ryan's Medicare plan imperils congressional Republicans.
Even before Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan to the ticket, our Battleground polling results indicated an erosion of support for Republicans, largely based on Paul Ryan’s plans for Medicare and entitlements. The advantage Republicans held among seniors in 2010 has been completely decimated. Across these Republican districts, incumbents now hold just a two-point lead with voters over age 64-- a group Republicans won by 18 points in 2010.

Not surprisingly, the leading factor in this shift away from the GOP is Paul Ryan’s war on Medicare. By a decisive six-point margin, voters in these districts now say they trust Democrats more than Republicans when it comes to Medicare. Among voters in the 27 most competitive Republican battleground seats, Democrats now hold an 11-point advantage on Medicare.

We are in the business of predictive politics, so you’ll forgive us if we pause for a moment to say… we warned them two years ago. Immediately following the 2010 election, we offered our analysis of the “shellacking” suffered by Democrats at the midterm ballot box. We acknowledged the wounding outcome but-- after careful analysis of our own poll results-- we saw a broader and more important message in the midterm: Democrats did not lose because voters wanted to move in the direction that Paul Ryan and the House Republicans have since tried to take the country.

Back then we wrote:
There is no evidence that this was an affirmative vote for Republicans. Their standing is no higher in this year’s post-election polls than it was in 2008 and 2006. There is a lot of evidence that voters do not share Republicans’ priorities, particularly on Social Security and Medicare, and voters did not mandate a consuming focus on spending cuts and deficit reduction…[the results do] not translate into a mandate for Republicans to slash spending… and squander the next two years trying to repeal health care.

We do not yet know the outcome of the 2012 election and we’re certainly not calling it now-- the Congressional ballot remains tight and there are still more than two months of tough campaigning to go.  But at this moment, our latest battleground survey in the 54 most vulnerable Republican-held districts-- many of the same Republicans who “shellacked” us in 2010-- shows that GOP incumbents are paying a heavy price for misreading the 2010 election results and overreaching on a conservative Paul Ryan agenda that voters did not mandate.

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