Policy-ish

Campaign Ads On Overhaul And Medicare Give Some Seniors Heartburn

If you've turned on a television lately, chances are you know the new health law has done something to Medicare.

You might have seen an ad like the one below, being run in by the conservative senior group 60 Plus, accusing Democratic Reps. Alan Grayson and Suzanne Kosmas of "betraying the trust of Florida's senior" by voting for the health bill.

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A group that ran this ad attacking two Democrats for their votes in favor of health overhaul is being criticized for stretching the truth.

Or this one, being run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, noting that Iowa Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley "voted to gut Medicare by $500 billion dollars" and that "over 60,000 Iowa seniors face reduced benefits because of Braley."

It's no secret why groups are running these ads, says Judith Stein, executive director of the non-partisan Center for Medicare Advocacy. "Seniors vote, and it's a way to get seniors to vote against those who supported health care reform."

And so far, says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, it appears to be working. "Right now the biggest problem Democrats have with the health care bill is the dislike of that bill by senior citizens, who have been scared to death about it," she says.

John Goodman, president of the free-market National Center for Policy Analysis, says seniors should be scared. Citing Medicare's own actuary, he says:

Before the decade is out, Medicare will be paying doctor and hospitals lower fees than Medicaid. It means senior will be at the very end of the line. And they will have great difficulty finding doctor that will see them, and hospitals that will take them.

But many others — including the fact-checking services PolitiFact and FactCheck.org — say the Medicare ads are way overblown.

And of course the ads fail to point out, says Stein, that not only does the law guarantee that Medicare's core benefits will remain untouched, it actually adds benefits to Medicare. "Health care reform eliminates cost-sharing for preventive benefits, adds a yearly wellness visit, limits cost-sharing in private Medicare plans, and closes the Part D doughnut hole," she said.

But perhaps the biggest question is the question of how appropriate it is to try to scare seniors for votes — which, in fairness, is something both parties are guilty of this year and in years past. Democrats have plenty of ads like this one, in which Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), accuses his challenger of wanting to privatize Social Security.

"Older people get very frightened," says Stein, who has been counseling Medicare beneficiaries for more than three decades. "I was speaking at a session when Medicare choice, the original private plans, started pulling out in Connecticut and an individual was so scared that he had a heart attack and died there, because he thought that he and his wife were going to lose their health insurance."

Indeed, a Nexis search turned up an Associated Press story from 1998 about the death of 72-year-old Frederick Kral, of East Lyme, who "suffered a massive heart attack Saturday just minutes after telling the insurers his wife was recovering from a stroke and he was angry about losing his coverage and felt abandoned by the government."

And, at least in most parts of the country, dead people can't vote.

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