(Bloomberg) — Voters are used to trusting Democrats on Medicare. But there are signs that this trust is eroding because of Medicare cuts in the Affordable Care Act and Republican efforts to highlight those cuts.
The latest evidence of this change came this week, when the Barack Obama administration backed away from its proposal to cut payments to insurers who offer coverage through the Medicare Advantage program. About 14 million seniors participate in this generally popular program, which allows beneficiaries to get their benefits through a private health plan.
The cuts, which were designed to help pay for Obamacare, would probably have forced some plans out of certain markets, and they likely would have had an adverse effect on the health benefits that seniors in the program receive. That proved problematic for the administration and led to its decision to back away from the proposed cuts — at the behest of a robust bipartisan coalition in both chambers of Congress.
Not only does that decision demonstrate the changing politics of Medicare, but it also raises a question about which political party actually owns the issue: Who do voters trust now to protect Medicare?
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As recently as 2011, Democrats consistently used Medicare to attack Republicans, arguing that proposed changes to the program contained in House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget would “end Medicare as we know it.” This claim was called the “lie of the year” by fact-checking organization PolitiFact.com, but that didn’t stop Democrats and other liberals — including Obama — from using the line in political stump speeches or running television and other commercials against Republicans on the issue.
We appear to be in a very different place today: Now it’s Democrats who are on the defensive over Medicare. It started with Obama and congressional Democrats taking $716 billion from the Medicare program to help pay for Obamacare. That money largely came out of payments to insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program, as well as reimbursements to hospitals, home health agencies and other providers.
These cuts are one of the most politically damaging parts of Obamacare for Democrats — and Republicans have already succeeded, to some extent, at going on the offensive, starting in the 2012 election cycle.
Mitt Romney, for example, often argued that it was Republicans who should be trusted to protect Medicare because it was the president and his allies in Congress who raided Medicare to pay for Obamacare. I was Romney’s policy director, and my colleagues and I felt he had a great case with seniors that Obama was weaker on Medicare.