(Originally on Huffington Post)
Presidential debates have long been more about style than substance but this week's debate has taken us into new territory. Once the event ended and each answer had been parsed and re-parsed by the media and our national punditry class, it's clear that American voters have been left with the largest collection of misrepresentations, half-truths and political fairy tales in Presidential debate history. This is especially true when you consider the comments and promises made about Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. From President Obama's still inscrutable comment about Social Security to Mitt Romney's demonstrably false claims about Medicare, it's no wonder America's seniors and their families are left scratching their heads.
49 million Americans depend on Medicare, more than 60 million on Medicaid and 55 million on Social Security. These programs touch the lives of virtually every American family in every community in our nation and are now at the center of a campaign to cut benefits as part of a so-called deficit "grand bargain". Surely, Americans deserve the full truth about what our Presidential candidates plan for these programs' futures rather than headlines like these: "Romney Wins on Style, Obama Wins on Facts", "Mostly Fiction", "Romney Told 27 Myths in 38 Minutes", "Romney Goes on Offense, Pays For It in First Wave of Fact-Checks" and "Obama's Social Security Answer Leaves Democrats Utterly Baffled".
Here are worst of the myths presented in this first Presidential debate:
Health care reform cuts $716 billion from Medicare.
This is poll-tested rhetoric seen in campaigns nationwide designed to trick seniors into believing their benefits have been cut. Truth is, not one penny of Medicare benefits was cut in the Affordable Care Act. In fact, that money is being used to improve health care and save money for Medicare beneficiaries. These benefits include preventive screenings and services, annual wellness visits and personalized prevention plans with no out-of-pocket costs, as well as discounts on prescription drugs in the Part D coverage gap known as the "donut hole" which will be closed by 2020. Medicare's solvency has been extended by eight years and in 2012, for the first time ever, the Part B deductible decreased from $162 to $140 per year.
Romney also did not mention that the GOP/Ryan budget he supports also includes these Medicare cuts yet this GOP plan does not reinvest one penny back into the program. Instead, they use that money to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and deficit reduction.
Don't Worry Seniors, My Plan Won't Impact You.
Not only does this cynical pandering to seniors not work--older Americans know their children and grandchildren will need these programs too-- it's also wrong. Governor Romney promised to repeal "Obamacare" on day one. That means on the first day of his administration seniors would lose free preventive benefits and annual wellness exams, prescription drug and premium costs will increase by hundreds of dollars per year, the Part D donut hole returns, private insurance companies get their taxpayer handouts back, and Medicare would be bankrupt by the end of a Romney first term.
Seniors would also see increased long-term care costs, including increased costs for nursing home care, because of cuts to Medicaid. The Romney/Ryan proposed Medicaid cuts mean a loss of over $2,500 annually for seniors who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.
The Romney/Ryan "CouponCare" plan won't end traditional Medicare because people can choose Medicare as an option.
Nonsense. Chairman Ryan's plan sets up a scenario that will put Medicare into a death spiral. This plan calls for private plans to provide benefits that are at least "actuarially equivalent" to the benefit package provided by fee-for-service Medicare, which gives private insurance companies the ability to manipulate their plans to attract the youngest and healthiest seniors. This would leave traditional Medicare with older and sicker beneficiaries whose higher health costs could lead to higher premiums that people would be unable or unwilling to pay, resulting in a death spiral for traditional Medicare. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' (CBPP) reports, "over time, traditional Medicare would become less financially viable and could unravel -- not because it was less efficient than the private plans, but because it was competing on an unlevel playing field in which private plans captured the healthier beneficiaries and incurred lower costs as a result."
Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney understand that it's politically impossible to pass legislation ending traditional Medicare. However, their "CouponCare" plan is a means to that end by putting traditional Medicare into a fiscally untenable position. Seniors will end up going back in time, to the days before Medicare, where they will once again be at the mercy of private insurance companies. It also makes it harder for seniors to choose their own doctor. Giving them a voucher that loses value over time means older Americans will pay more for less while private insurance companies reap the gains.
This election will likely determine the future of America's most successful anti-poverty and retirement security programs. Few American families will remain untouched by the decisions the next President and Congress will soon make. It's really not too much to ask that our candidates ditch the political propaganda and mistruths and start giving it to us straight. The Vice Presidential debate on October 11th is a good place to start.