Medicare, the campaign and the need for enlightenment

August 23, 2012
10:57 am

For all of the criticisms of this year’s presidential campaign being overly negative and personalized, I actually believe one of the most important failures of the campaign thus far is spotlighted in the New York Times/CBS News poll published in today’s Times.

Despite (or perhaps, because of) the millions of dollars in advertising focused on the issue of Medicare, millions of Americans still don’t understand that the Medicare program as it currently exists can’t last.  The campaign has failed, to this point, in educating voters that the status quo – or, as some politicians like to say, Medicare ‘as we know it’ – isn’t a viable option.

The NYT/CBS poll revealed that in three key swing states (Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin), approximately 60 percent of respondents said they preferred that Medicare should continue “as it is today.”  Now, to be fair, the other option given in the poll question was a 28-word description of the Romney-Ryan premium support proposal, and we know from work with focus groups that premium support is not a concept that can be adequately explained in just a couple of sentences.

It’s clear, though, to anyone that watches the nonstop TV advertising from political campaigns both national and local that there is much more interest in demonizing opponents over the Medicare issue than there is in actually enlightening voters on the subject.  Thus, it’s not surprising that majorities of voters would prefer the safe ground of the Medicare status quo when candidates aren’t emphasizing that:

•    The Medicare Board of Trustees has said that the program, as it stands today, will be insolvent in a little over a decade – in 2024.

•    10,000 Americans per day are turning 65 and will receive approximately three dollars in healthcare benefits for every one dollar they paid in payroll taxes over the course of their working years

•    It is a misnomer to say that any measure that doesn’t cut Medicare benefits to seniors, but that reduces payments to providers instead, protects beneficiaries.  An American Medical Association survey from 2010 already warns that one of every three primary care doctors won’t take new Medicare patients because of low reimbursements.

What we need to hear more frequently on the campaign trail is that voters do have a choice, but it’s not between changing Medicare or keeping the program as it is.  Rather, voters need to decide how they want political leaders to change a program that can’t be sustained in its current form.

We have approximately 75 days left in the campaign to see that realistic discussion take place.  Fingers crossed.

One Response to “Medicare, the campaign and the need for enlightenment”

  1. Oliver Henkel Says:

    Please don’t make the same mistake that David Brooks made last week in the NYT. The Affordable Care Act changes the underlying assumptions which have been made regarding the solvency of Medicare by potentially lowering the inflation rate of healthcare costs significantly. We have already seen the rate of growth lower dramatically in the last 3 years and that should continue as we focus on delivery system changes, payment methodology realignment and wellness and disease prevention measures, all of which will have an impact on cost inflation. As the New England Journal of Medicine made clear in late July, access to quality healthcare to millions more will have the effect of reducing costs because care will be better managed and coordinated, especially among those with chronic illnesses. Too many politicians and others want to immediate satisfaction. We must give the ACA changes a chance to take effect and work in non-partisan ways to make it better.
    Incidentally, I would be interested in where you got the figure that 10,000 new Medicare beneficiaries on coming on to the rolls every day. The last estimate I saw was that 1.6 million more would come on annually which is more like 4,000 per day. Many thanks. Oliver Henkel

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