President Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, have two very different visions for the future of Medicare, a program that affects millions of older adults — the question is whom do elders and their advocates side with?
The crux of the debate is this —Romney stresses that Obama’s plan would cut $716 billion from Medicare, making it unsustainable, while Obama says Romney’s idea of turning the program into a voucher system would be disastrous.
Obama defends his proposal by stating that the cuts would not affect senior recipients, but rather would target healthcare providers, as well as ridding the Medicare system of waste and inefficiency. He said that through that streamlining, the life of the program would be extended by almost a decade.
“It’s about a promise this country made to our seniors that says if you put in a lifetime of hard work, you shouldn’t lose your home or your life savings just because you get sick,” Obama said in his weekly address on Aug. 25. “Over the last 47 years, millions of Americans have worked for that promise. They’ve earned it. And for many seniors, the care they’ve gotten through Medicare has made all the difference in the world.”
He added that the Affordable Care Act gave seniors bigger discounts on prescription drugs and provided free preventive care, and that since the law passed, nearly 5.4 million seniors enrolled in Medicare have saved over $4.1 billion on their medications — an average of more than $700 per person — and 18 million seniors this year alone have taken advantage of free mammograms or other cancer screenings.
Romney, meanwhile, envisions reforming Medicare so seniors can retain traditional coverage or get a fixed amount benefit that they can use to purchase a private insurance plan. The idea is that if insurers compete against each other to provide consumers with the best prices, the efficiency and quality of care will improve and costs will decline.
“We must honestly and seriously deal with the future of Social Security and Medicare,” Romney says on his campaign website. “In their current form, these programs are unsustainable. Unlike President Obama, our next president must protect these programs, improve them, and keep them sustainable for generations to come.”
Under Romney’s plan, insurance coverage must be comparable to what presently exists under Medicare. If seniors choose more expensive plans, they will have to pay the difference between the coverage amount and the premium price, but if they choose less expensive plans, they can’t use the money toward any of their other medical expenses or deductibles.
For the next two decades, some 10,000 people will turn 65 annually, according to Bobbie Sackman, the director of public policy for the Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City. Sackman, 63, said the organization has no official stand on either presidential candidate’s Medicare policy, but as someone who will turn 65 in a year and a half, she said, personally, she agrees with Obama.
“The Romney plan forces seniors out into the market to find insurance, which is impossible given the increasing costs of healthcare,” Sackman said. “The plan would erode the Medicare system.”
But Sackman also has some reservations, stating that although Obama’s cuts would be aimed at healthcare providers and medical equipment suppliers, “everything is tied together and it could affect patient care. The patient could get hurt.”
Linda Leest, the executive director of Services Now For Adult Persons, a senior organization in Queens Village, also expressed support for Obama’s plan for Medicare, calling it “excellent.” Leest, 68, speaking on behalf of herself and not SNAP, said there are many good aspects in both his future vision and the Affordable Health Care Act, including no caps on coverage, no denial for pre-existing medical conditions and the closure of the gap in prescription drug coverage known as the doughnut hole.
“Romney’s voucher plan would absolutely not work for me,” Leest said. “I have a disabled husband who has not been able to work since he was 48 years old. The cost of coverage would just be impossible for me to afford as the sole income provider.”
Former Queens Republican state Sen. Serphin Maltese, the former chairman of the Conservative Party of New York, offered a dissenting point of view, when asked whose plan he would support.
“That’s an easy decision for me,” he said Wednesday. “I definitely agree with Romney. Obamacare is not going to work and it’s going to take to too much money out of Medicare. It’s a risky business bringing our country into debt, especially when many states oppose the plan and have said they will not participate.”