Obama's health care of mythic proportions

Karl Rove:

President Barack Obama was wise to vacation this week on Martha's Vineyard. Not because it's one of the few places in America where his health-care plan is still popular, but because by getting out of Washington he gave staff time to repair his vaunted message machine, which was starting to break down.

Two weeks ago, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said in a now legendary "viral" email that, "It's a myth that health insurance reform would be financed by cutting Medicare benefits." This was sent out the day before Mr. Obama told a Montana town hall that he'd pay for health-care reform by "eliminating . . . about $177 billion over 10 years" for "what's called Medicare Advantage." And it was two days before Mr. Obama told a Colorado town hall he'd cover "two-thirds" of the "roughly $900 billion" of his plan's cost by "eliminating waste," again citing Medicare Advantage.

Who's right? As a former senior adviser, I can tell you who: the president. What's more, according to a White House fact sheet titled "Paying for Health Care Reform," Mr. Axelrod was misleading his readers. It notes the administration would cut $622 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, with a big chunk coming from Medicare Advantage, to pay for overhauling health care. Mr. Obama heralded these cuts as "common sense" in his June 13 radio address.

Medicare Advantage was enacted in 2003 to allow seniors to use Medicare funds to buy private insurance plans that fit their needs and their budgets. They get better care and better value for their money.

Medicare Advantage also has built-in incentives to encourage insurers to offer lower costs and better benefits. It's a program that puts patients in charge, not the government, which is why seniors like it and probably why the administration hates it.

Already, an estimated 10.2 million seniors—one out of five in America—have enrolled in Medicare Advantage. Mr. Obama is proposing to cut the program by nearly 20% and thus reduce the amount of money each will have to buy insurance. This will likely force most of them to lose the insurance they have now. Yet Mr. Obama promised in late July in New Hampshire that, "if you like your health-care plan, you can keep your health-care plan."

There are roughly 23,400 seniors on average in a congressional district who have Medicare Advantage, but who face losing it if Mr. Obama has his way. That's enough votes to tip most competitive House and Senate races.

Back in 2006, Mr. Obama and other Democrats railed against GOP efforts—modest though they were—to slow future Medicare spending growth. Now he and his party may reap what they have sown. As the president pushes to enact an overall cut to Medicare he will imperil Democrats in tough re-election races. Mr. Obama has a dangerous old tiger by the tail. Seniors are much more likely to vote than the population at large.

...

So why do Democrats keep insulting the intelligence of the seniors who object to their plans to cut their benefits? They think they can get away with it. Obama seems to think that his speaking ability is magic enough to refute facts and arguments, but in this case the magic is not working and that is why he and his plan are sinking in the polls.

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