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Republicans Run into Trouble on Medicare and Medicaid – In Utah

Amid Todd Akin day, here’s what we shouldn’t forget: yesterday Ed Gillespie basically acknowledged that a Mitt Romney Administration would have to raise the Medicare eligibility age in the first term. Romney would remove all the various budgetary savings that would keep the Medicare trust fund solvent beyond 2016, so something would have to happen to deliver the authority to keep spending on Medicare. And the only solution the Romney campaign has offered, through Gillespie, is the increase to the eligibility age.

So that means that the idea that beneficiaries under the age of 55 would be protected and grandfathered into traditional Medicare is bogus. Savings would have to be generated in that immediate term in order for Medicare to keep on spending. You either need the savings from reducing subsidies to private insurance and providers, as the ACA does, or impose cuts to beneficiaries from increasing eligibility (or perhaps means testing, which the Romney campaign has also floated). The only cuts Romney has contemplated have been to beneficiaries directly.

It should be said that substantial numbers of Republicans disagree with this approach. And that includes substantial numbers of Republicans in Utah.

Last Thursday night, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was in Salt Lake City to campaign for Mia Love, the African American mayor of Saratoga Springs and tea party darling who’s trying to knock off the state’s only Democratic House member, Jim Matheson. At an open-air amphitheater in West Valley City McCain and Love held a town hall meeting attended by about 250 people. There they were peppered with questions by people who identified themselves as loyal Republicans but were seriously concerned that the Romney-Ryan proposals would make life harder for them. Ironically, Love and McCain attempted to quell their supporters’ concerns by offering up proposals that have already been implemented—by President Barack Obama.

One woman took issue with the Ryan-Romney Medicare plan, which would shift much of the cost of health care onto seniors by turning it into a voucher program. Ryan and Romney insist that none of those changes would affect anyone over 55. The woman told McCain that she was under 55, and that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was very concerned that she would not be able to get affordable insurance or Medicare under Romney’s vision of the government health care plan.

Another woman, Jessica Kerr, the mother of a child with autism, said, “I know you say we’ve got to cut, cut, cut. I’m concerned with the cuts to the disabled and Medicare and Medicaid.” Kerr, who identified herself as a loyal Republican, told the story of being on a waiting list now for four years to get medical assistance for her disabled child and finding her concerns falling on deaf ears of the state legislators. Love, who has supported the Ryan plan to cut $1.5 trillion out of the Medicaid budget (pdf) over the next decade and drop between 14 and 27 million people from the program, responded, “Anyone who has said to you or anyone else that I’m going to pull the rug out from under you…is absolutely lying to you.”

If it’s a problem in Utah – and remember the reaction here is just to the stated program of cuts to Medicaid and turning Medicare into a voucher program – it’s a problem everywhere. And the only explanation McCain and this House candidate had was to deny and then promote health care policies that already exist in the centrist version of health care reform, i.e. the Affordable Care Act.

This is from a Republican in Utah:

“There’s a general movement in the country right now, and I understand it, that we should cut everything. But what I’m concerned about is this sort of libertarian view that the weak should just fall off the edge of the Earth. It’s a little bit of a dangerous proposal to say government should have no role and we should cut everything.”

Little moments like this show that the country is actually completely unprepared for what the far right wants to accomplish. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful. But it does mean that it wouldn’t take too much to tip the scales in the opposite direction.

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David Dayen

David Dayen