Facts often get lost in the Medicare scare tactic

William Tucker of Hampton beams with pride when he talks about meeting President Barack Obama last month when the president made a campaign stop in Hampton.

Tucker, 83, a veteran of three wars who has also been the head of the state longshoremen's union, thinks Obama's health-care reform package, the Affordable Care Act, is one of the president's greatest achievements. Tucker has volunteered for Democratic campaigns at all levels for decades. He said he now refuses to work for local Democrats who don't support the Affordable Care Act "100 percent."

Newport News retiree Mike Joseph, 66, holds the opposite view.

"I call what Obama does half-statements," Joseph said. "He says Romney and Ryan will end Medicare as we know it, but he doesn't say that the Affordable Care Act has already done that."

Since GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate in Norfolk two weeks ago, Medicare has become a major campaign talking point directed at senior citizens in Republican and Democratic campaigns from the presidential level to Virginia's U.S. Senate race and local congressional races.

Tucker worries about Romney's promises to repeal Obama's omnibus health care reform package. He said he doesn't think Romney and Ryan are giving people all the facts about Ryan's budget plan, which turns Medicare into a voucher program for people under the age of 55.

"Don't ask for my vote if you won't tell me these things. If you're going to change health care, tell me exactly how and where the money's coming from," Tucker said.

Joseph worries about claims that Obama is cutting Medicare by $716 billion to pay for the Affordable Care Act. He said he believes there are provisions in the long, complicated law that will further cut Medicare benefits as the legislation is fully implemented.

Claims that Obama has cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicare have been repeatedly debunked by fact-checking organizations such as PolitiFact and FactCheck.org, which have also taken issue with claims that Romney would "end Medicare as we know it."

Here's how FactCheck.org summarizes the situation:

"The Obama campaign is trying to peg Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as the guys who will 'end Medicare as we know it,' and make seniors pay thousands more for health care. The Romney campaign is trying to paint President Barack Obama as the one who is 'raiding Medicare,' and cutting benefits for current seniors. But the reality is that both campaigns propose cutting the growth in future Medicare spending — for good reason — and each is trying to scare seniors about the other campaign's plan."

'Truth may be a casualty'

Senior citizens vote in much higher numbers than other age demographics and can't be ignored by candidates in what is shaping up to be "razor tight" elections at the presidential and Senate levels.

Seniors in key battleground states like Virginia are being bombarded with campaign attack ads and talking-points in the news media from both parties that don't quite tell the whole story about their opponent's positions.

Jesse Richman, a professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said both sides agree that something has to be done about the rising cost of Medicare, which annually grows faster than the rate of inflation while revenues remain fairly stagnant.

Richman said both parties are trying to rein in the costs of the massive entitlement program in different ways. Republicans and the Ryan budget plan look to shift costs to beneficiaries. The Democrats and Obama on the other hand want to shift costs to the providers like doctors, hospitals and insurance companies.

Richman said the pick of Ryan as the GOP vice presidential nominee has made Medicare a much more "salient issue" in the election that both sides are trying to sue for political gain.

"The truth may be a casualty in both cases," Ryan said.

The real plans

Republicans repeatedly claim that Obama has cut $716 billion from Medicare. The reality is that these are reductions in the future growth in the program over the next decade. These spending cuts play out largely in reduced payments to providers.