Mitt Romney’s biggest healthcare problem with voters isn’t RomneyCare

Once the general election rolls around, Mitt Romney is going to have a big healthcare problem on his hands. And it’s not his passage of RomneyCare while governor of Massachusetts.

Yes, he’s getting pilloried now by GOP rivals over RomneyCare. Yes, everyone who’s been paying attention knows that RomneyCare is nearly identical to ObamaCare, which conservatives hate slightly less than flag-burning hippies. Yes, Romney supported the individual mandate before he opposed it.

But Romney’s big problem come November — particularly with elderly voters — is his backing of Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to transform Medicare into a voucher system, in which seniors would receive federal dollars to supplement the purchase of private health insurance.


Under Ryan’s plan, seniors would end up paying almost twice as much out of their own pockets — or more than $12,510 a year, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated. That’s not a recipe for success with senior voters.

And don’t think that’s lost on Democrats. In a special election for a New York House seat in a conservative district last year, Democrats credit their emphasis on Medicare as the key issue that led to victory. In that election, the Democrat winner repeatedly hammered her Republican counterpart for embracing Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare.

In a few months, Obama’s political handlers will pull out the same playbook and use it on Romney.

A press release from Romney’s campaign yesterday shows his desperation on this issue. The release blares that Obama “is ending Medicare as we know it” even though that simply isn’t true. Some might even call it a lie.

Obama’s federal health reform included $500 billion in Medicare cuts to health providers over 10 years. That’s not exactly the end of Medicare.

The Ryan plan, however, does end Medicare as we know it. Not only would the private plans Ryan advocates be more expensive than Medicare, but the government’s contribution (the amount of the voucher) would grow more slowly than health costs. So, over time, more and more costs would be shifted to seniors.

The problem for Romney is that there was no way he was going to escape the Republican primaries without embracing the Ryan plan. Newt Gingrich learned that when he correctly blasted the ill-conceived plan as “right-wing social engineering,” got lambasted by conservatives for it, and quickly professed to a change of heart.

In November, Romney’s going to wish that he’d dumped the Ryan plan long ago. And Obama’s going to be screaming “Hallelujah!” that Romney didn’t.

[Photo from flickr user ProgressOhio]

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