Romney falls short on Medicare reform

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2011 - 6:44 PM
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Mitt Romney

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney conveniently left out key facts when he ripped a new health care cost-control measure -- the Independent Payment Advisory Board.

The 15-member appointed board is charged with reining in Medicare spending. It's one of the most promising cost-containment measures in the 2010 Affordable Care Act.

Since the law's passage, Republicans have targeted the board, claiming it will ration care and usurp congressional authority.

Romney joined in this disingenuous disparagement when he rolled out a half-baked Medicare reform plan last week. He called for gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.

He'd also allow seniors to choose a voucher plan that would give them financial assistance to buy private health insurance.

Romney didn't specify how much the vouchers would be worth and how that amount would be indexed to health care inflation.

But that would be handy information if you want to determine: 1) if the plan will save money, and 2) if seniors will want to sign up for the voucher option.

Romney also attacked the payment advisory board, with criticism straight out of the GOP playbook.

President Obama "put the future of Medicare in the hands of 15 unelected bureaucrats.

These bureaucrats have the power to enact further cuts to Medicare without congressional approval, even if those cuts overturn a law previously passed by Congress," said Romney, who was quoted in a Politico story.

"President Obama's so-called Medicare reforms could lead to the rationing or denial of care for seniors on Medicare."

Here's what Romney didn't say: The board can only recommend savings policies to Congress if Medicare spending targets are exceeded.

Congress can then reject those proposals, come up with its own alternatives or simply let the proposals go into effect without a vote. Congress can choose to abdicate its authority, but the board is not usurping it.

The Affordable Care Act also specifically limits the board's powers. It cannot ration care, reduce benefits, raise premiums or other cost-sharing such as copays. As part of that, it cannot raise Medicare's eligibility age, as Romney himself has proposed.

Republican candidates will gather Wednesday night in Michigan for the 11th debate of the year. Debate moderators should call out Romney on his inaccuracies and ask him to explain why he's taking Michele Bachmann-style liberties with the truth.

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Jill Burcum is a Star Tribune editorial writer.

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