Democrats Can’t Run from Obamacare’s Medicare Cuts…But They’re Trying

One of Democrats favorite election year tactics is to gin up some good old fashioned “Mediscare” – by wrongly trying to convince voters that Republicans are out to end Medicare. The tired argument grew so loud and obnoxious that PolitiFact even dubbed it their “Lie of the Year” for 2011.

“Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on campaign advertising who directs the Annenberg center at the University of Pennsylvania, says Democrats have been using falsehoods and exaggerations about Medicare and Social Security since at least 1952,” reports PolitiFact. “She calls it the longest-running “Democratic deception.”

Ironically, at the same time Democrats were hurling broadsides at Republican attempts to make Medicare financially solvent, they were voting to cut the program by more than seven hundred billion dollars over the next decade. And these were not market reforms aimed at realigning incentives within the system to reward good outcomes and less consumption of health care, no this was a straight-up gutting of the program. Unsurprisingly, the chief actuary for Medicare found that these cuts could destabilize the program.

“While such payment update reductions will create a strong incentive for providers to maximize efficiency, it is doubtful that many will be able to improve their own productivity to the degree achieved by the economy at large,” the actuary writes. “Thus, providers for whom Medicare constitutes a substantive portion of their business could find it difficult to remain profitable and, absent legislative intervention, might end their participation in the program (possibly jeopardizing access to care for beneficiaries).

These cuts passed the Senate by a 56-42 margin with zero Republican votes and all but two Democrats in favor. But with the 2014 elections fast approaching Democrats are quickly finding out that Obamacare’s Medicare cuts—which were essential to paying the subsidies for exchange plans—is a huge political liability. In a desperate attempt to stem the coming tide, nineteen Democratic senator signed a letter Tuesday to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explaining the dire consequences of cuts to Medicare Advantage.

“We write to raise serious concerns about the Medicare Advantage (MA) 2015 rate notice and the impact further cuts may have on the millions of individuals enrolled in the program,” the senators write. “We are strongly committed to preserving the high quality health plan choices and benefits that our constituents receive through the MA program.”

They go on to mention that enrollees in Medicare Advantage “enjoy better health outcomes” and “receive higher quality care” than Americans in the traditional Medicare program.

The problem isn’t the message, but the messengers. As the Wall Street Journal writes:

 The new conscientious objectors are notable because their ranks expand beyond the usual endangered Democrats like Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. New York’s Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democratic leader, signed on, as did Colorado’s Michael Bennet, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Even such otherwise reliably left-wing liberals as Ed Markey (Massachusetts), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota) and Jeff Merkley (Oregon) have joined the dissenters.

Their complaints would be more credible if they hadn’t created the problem by voting for ObamaCare, though in signing the letter they are conceding that the law has become a real political vulnerability. About one of two people newly eligible for Medicare chooses Advantage, and enrollment is growing at a 10% annual clip.

And that’s the problem that Democrats, who are now attempting to run from the cuts they voted for, will have to deal with. Do they plead ignorance and claim that they were simply unaware that such enormous Medicare cuts were included in Obamacare? That seems unlikely. Or do they argue they’ve had a change of heart? Because if that’s the case, they should be pressed on how they intend to pay for the massive exchange subsidies that are currently keeping Obamacare afloat.

But the truth is they probably don’t have answers to those questions, because this—like the Mediscare tactics before it—are just another example of a great “Democratic deception” that attempts to convince voters that they—the party who cut $700 billion from Medicare—are the defenders of the program.