Monday, September 10, 2012

The Obama Campaign’s Magical Medicare Mystery Tour

Over the weekend, the Obama campaign renewed their refrain of “Mediscare” attacks during a series of speeches in Florida.  The new hook for the President was a Center for American Progress study, which we have already debunked elsewhere.  One of the study’s authors was Harvard economist David Cutler – and a new National Journal piece (subscription required) shows that the “hot shot of the health economics world” has, shall we say, evolved slightly when it comes to reforming Medicare:

  • In an e-mail to staff of the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission back in 2010, Cutler proposed “removing the special status of traditional Medicare.”  In the CAP report he co-authored just last month, Cutler said that “the Romney-Ryan plan increases system-wide costs by promoting private insurance that will be more costly than the existing [traditional] Medicare system.”
  • The introduction to the CAP paper last month said that Governor Romney and Chairman Ryan “want to convert our nation’s Medicare program into a voucher system for people who are under 55 years of age.”  Which is exactly what Cutler himself proposed back in 2010, when he wrote the Simpson-Bowles commission and suggested “moving the Medicare population into the exchanges…that would be the same as the voucher.”  As the National Journal article notes, “Cutler wasn’t just recommending that the Democrats incorporate vouchers into Medicare, something the Obama campaign is squarely against now.  He was also proposing that the federal government move seniors into insurance exchanges through a much-criticized executive-branch Medicare board [i.e., the Independent Payment Advisory Board created by Obamacare].  That is a proposition you won’t hear in talking points from either Cutler or the Obama campaign.”
  • In the CAP paper last month, Cutler wrote that “private insurance that will be more costly than the existing Medicare system.”  Which is the exact opposite of the conclusion reached in another August article, this one in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “beneficiaries must pay more for traditional Medicare or join a private plan.”  And one of the authors of that JAMA piece?  You guessed it – David Cutler.

So the highlight of the Obama campaign’s “Mediscare” mud-slinging argument is an analysis from someone who has flip-flopped on 1) keeping traditional Medicare’s preferred status; 2) converting Medicare into a “voucher” program; and 3) whether traditional Medicare will be more or less costly than private insurance plans (with that last flip-flop taking place in the lengthy time span of three weeks).  When trying to explain away his contortions on Medicare reform, Cutler told National Journal he was “trying to explain health care economics to people who are not economists or health care specialists….I agree, people should read my articles and books.  But if they don’t, I need to communicate in pieces.”  In other words, believe Cutler – or at least some of the “pieces” of his analysis – instead of your own lying eyes.

One thing’s for certain: There’s a whole lot of change in these disingenuous assaults by Team Obama.  But there isn’t a lot of hope in them, that’s for sure.  Nor is there a lot of principle either.