Cognitive dissonance on Medicare

Seniors Rally In Support Medicare, Social Programs In Chicago
Demonstrators, including many senior citizens, protest against cuts to federal safety net programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on November 7, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo by Scott Olson/getty
There must have been some kind of strategy memo issued behind the scenes. Apropos of nothing, House Republican leaders decided last week their new top issue is complaining about cost-savings measures in Medicare – and the rest of the House GOP conference quickly started reading from the same script.
 
The party’s official weekly address was delivered over the weekend by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.), who condemned Medicare “cuts” as a “breach of faith” with America’s seniors, and we’re seeing individual members pop up with op-eds like this one from Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio).
One of the most troubling aspects of President Obama’s takeover of health care is the more than $200 billion in cuts that Obamacare is taking from the Medicare Advantage (MA) program – a program that over 15 million seniors and individuals with disabilities have chosen to enroll in across the United States.
 
As of January 2014, Ohio had over 763,797 enrollees in the MA program and roughly 38,766 of those enrollees reside in Eastern and Southeastern Ohio. This administration must stop these cuts to the MA program from happening if they want to protect the well-being of seniors across the country.
Right off the bat, the moment you hear a member of Congress argue that President Obama has launched a “takeover” of the health care system, you know there’s probably going to be some flaws with the rest of the argument.
 
But the real problem with Johnson’s argument is more specific: he voted for the same “cuts” he’s now condemning.
 
The issue, once again, are the Medicare cost savings in the Affordable Care Act. As we discussed the other day, the law doesn’t actually cut Medicare – if it did, the AARP wouldn’t have endorsed it – so much as it reduces payments to insurance companies and hospitals, extending the program’s financial health while expanding benefits. We can certainly have a meaningful conversation about whether the changes have caused some disruptions in the system, because they have.
 
But what’s especially relevant now is the fact that congressional Republicans, after the savings took effect, quickly incorporated the policy into their own budget plan – a plan Bill Johnson, like nearly all GOP lawmakers, voted for.
 
This is easily documented: Johnson and House Republicans voted for the so-called “cuts” in 2011. And then again in 2012. And then once more in 2013.
 
GOP officials basically have two choices here: they can condemn the Medicare cost savings or they can embrace the Medicare cost savings. Right now, their plan is to do both and hope the public and the media don’t notice.
 
If House Republicans were sincere about their new position – they’re almost certainly not, but if they were – they could very easily write legislation increasing Medicare spending, reversing the savings included in “Obamacare” and the GOP budget plan. But they’re not, which tells us quite a bit about the seriousness of their argument.
 
There is, however, an electoral angle to also keep in mind. As the midterm elections draw closer, congressional Republicans have quietly decided to appear more liberal, not more conservative, as a way to impress voters. That means Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) running ads touting his efforts to use government to expand access to affordable health care, and it means House GOP members attacking Democrats for being insufficiently loyal to Medicare.
 
If conservatism were ascendant, and the right were confident that anti-ACA animus will make the 2014 midterms a great success for Republicans, wouldn’t this be wholly unnecessary?
 

Affordable Care Act, Bill Johnson, Medicare and Obamacare

Cognitive dissonance on Medicare