Today’s Road to the White House focused on the key policy issues – such as healthcare and jobs – that will form the substantive backbone of this campaign. Of course, this assumes that the campaign will actually rise above the politics of personal destruction. Given the tenor to date, past precedent, and the American public’s current appetite for wonk-ish discourse, this certainly cannot be taken for granted. One particular issue – Medicare – has been catapulted to the forefront of political discourse because of the selection of Paul Ryan – the Republican champion of reform and, according to the Democrats and organized Senior Citizen groups, grandma’s undertaker. Mitt Romney may say that he is solely in charge of formulating policy, but it may be hard for him to break away from the long shadow of the “Butcher of Boca.”
Giuseppe, a leader of the USC College Republicans, made a passing reference to a political advertisement showing Ryan “throwing granny off a cliff.” I consider myself to be a ferocious consumer of political news and keen observer of political advertisements, yet I have never seen this spot. Living in a state that is considered “in the bag” may save us from a barrage of political ads, but every now and then the media consultants toss us some entertainment. Apparently, Gary Johnson and the Libertarians jumped in on the action, using the same graphic – yet oddly comedic – imagery to champion their view of Medicare as a Ponzi scheme. By emphasizing Medicare’s looming insolvency, the Libertarians aim to paint Democrats – and “most Republicans” – as the true geriatric grim reapers. In effect, they are touting a reform plan – maybe Paul Ryan’s?? – as the only way to keep our elderly population from facing an abrupt death from a lack of healthcare. Ralph Nader spoiler alert??
The mechanism by which granny dies in both storylines is through a lack of healthcare access – particularly affordability concerns. Critics of Ryan’s plan contend that the private costs associated with restructuring Medicare as a voucher program – particularly the premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses – would be beyond the reach of most seniors. Looks like we are back to the eating or buying your medicine tradeoff. However, Giuseppe from the USC College Republicans cited a finding from the CBO (which, based on my research, is really a finding form Harvard researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine) suggesting that the additional cost to Medicare beneficiaries would be $800/year – not the $6400 death-inducing payment cited by critics. The calculations are pretty complex, so I will spare myself and everyone else all that “fuzzy math.” For the best analysis available on the Internet – particularly for those with full-time jobs and policy generalists – take a look at the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact.com and its Truth-O-Meter. If time is of the essence, Yahoo claims to give you all the facts in under 3 minutes. Take all that time you saved and give your grandmother a call to say you love her. She probably thinks everyone is out to get her this political season.