Guest Post from Igor Volsky, Wonk Room,
Public opinion polls suggest that despite the endorsement of the AARP, senior citizens still oppose the new health care law in overwhelming numbers. A June 2010 Gallup Poll, for instance, reported that "the largest well of opposition is found among seniors, 60% of whom call passage of the bill a bad thing, similar to the 57% in April. At first glance, the opposition is rather startling. As an age groups, seniors boast some of the highest insurance rates in the nation -- just 1.8% of seniors were uninsured in 2009 -- and the overwhelming majority are satisfied with their government-sponsored Medicare programs.
Part of the opposition can be attributed to the GOP's successful massaging about reform. Throughout the debate, Republicans have argued that the health care law would cut millions from the Medicare program, undercut basic benefits, lead to higher prescription drug costs, and eliminate the Medicare Advantage program -- all of which was false:
- STRENGTHENING MEDICARE: The health law does not cut the current Medicare budget, but slows growth in the program by removing approximately $500 billion from future spending over the next 10 years. The cuts help stabilize the program by eliminating overpayments and slowly phasing in payment adjustments that encourage providers to deliver quality care more efficiently. As a result the life of the Medicare trust fund is extended by 12 years, while seniors retain all of their guaranteed Medicare benefits.
- SENIORS WILL FACE LOWER DRUG COSTS: Millions of seniors who spend more than a certain amount on medications fall into a so-called hole, at which point they lose drug coverage and pay out of pocket until they spend a certain amount of money. Those who can’t afford the added costs, sometimes stop taking medicines altogether. In 2007, more than one in four, or 26 percent, of Medicare Part D enrollees reached this coverage gap. The health care law gradually closes this doughnut hole by sending rebate checks to seniors.
- STRENGTHENING MEDICARE ADVANTAGE: The law eliminates the subsidy paid out to insurers participating in the Medicare Advantage program, but companies that provide care efficiently (including the MA programs that provide drug coverage), will receive bonus payments and prosper under the new payment system.
Seniors' disapproval of the law is testament to the GOP's successful opposition, but an indictment of the prospects of its repeal. The Republicans told seniors that health care reform would take away or undermine their existing benefits and they believed them -- proving that Americans won't want to give up what they have when they have it. Already, support for repeal falls from 40% to just 19% once individuals are told that insurance companies would exclude people with pre-existing conditions and is likely to fall even lower once more health benefits are made available. That realization is perhaps the one silver lining in the struggle to sell the new health care law.