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Following the Currents that Guide Florida's Future
What does the presidential debate over Medicare’s future mean for Florida recipients?
Frank Bentayou
Florida has the highest percentage of Medicare recipients. Speakers at the Republican National Convention in Tampa warned of dire effects from President Obama's Medicare management. And hardly a Democratic critic of the Republican rhetoric avoided blasting GOP proposals. Can Medicare continue as it has with only the small tweaks of a Democratic plan? Proposed changes include more tax support from wealthy Americans and more restrictive compensation for doctors and hospitals. Or will a Republican-proposed voucher system, permitting recipients to buy private health insurance with a government subsidy, work for our growing older population?
Jeff Johnson
State Director, AARP

It’s been clear for years that this election will be critically important to the future of Medicare and Social Security, as leaders from both parties have been talking behind closed doors in Washington about changing these programs for fiscal reasons.  The fact that Medicare has taken a central place in the presidential race is welcome.  Voters deserve the right to hear more than soundbites and platitudes on the future of Medicare, because their retirement security depends on the program’s continued strength. 

While to date the campaigning has consisted mostly of charges and counter-charges, my hope is that voters will hear more substance from the candidates before Election Day.

In an AARP poll released in early August (http://aarp.us/OZDu50), Florida voters 50+ gave the presidential campaigns failing marks on how clearly they were explaining their plans for Medicare.  By 60 to 27 percent, voters gave both major-party candidates very poor to not so good marks on explaining their Medicare plans.

And that was before your television was jammed with negative political ads that range from incomplete to downright misleading – on both sides.

The poll also made it clear that voters are worried about Medicare’s future.  Only 40 percent of Florida Boomers are somewhat or strongly confident that Medicare will be there for them and future generations; 56 percent are not very or not at all confident.  Yet 92 percent of Florida 50+ voters, including lopsided majorities of self-declared Obama voters, undecided voters and Romney voters, agree that the next president and Congress need to strengthen Medicare so it can provide retiree health security for future generations.

Some 93 percent of Obama voters, and 90 percent of Romney voters, agreed that finding a long-term solution for Social Security and Medicare is too big a problem for either party to fix.  Instead, these voters agreed, Democrats and Republicans should work together to find a solution for Medicare and Social Security for future generations.

So far, Washington isn’t listening.  To raise the voices of Floridians of all ages, AARP’s You’ve Earned a Say initiative is holding nearly 300 public events in Florida alone to share the pros and cons of each major idea to change Medicare and Social Security.  To learn more about Washington’s plans for Medicare, and to have your say on the program’s future, go to www.EarnedASay.org or call AARP Florida at 1-866-595-7678.  

You’ve earned a say on the future of Medicare.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz
U.S. Representative, 20th District; Chairwoman, Democratic National Committee

In an interview last week, Wasserman Schultz, a fervent supporter of President Obama’s re-election, told U.S.News & World Report that Republicans have given the false impression that President Obama wants to cut Medicare to help pay for his health care overhaul. She included GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, among those perpetrating that falsehood.

Among the "extreme" positions that will hurt Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the Congresswoman said, are his support for deep cuts to popular social programs, including his endorsement of an overhaul of Medicare that will reconfigure the program “as a voucher system” that pushes Americans over 65 into policies from private insurance companies.

"It's real disappointing how cynical they [the Republicans] are and how they are willing to say anything to get elected," she told a reporter.

Connie Mack IV
U.S. Congressman, Fort Meyers

Rep. Mack, from Fort Myers has made precious few comments about the future of Medicare, though political scientists and media reports strongly suggest that the government-funded-and-administered health insurance plan for seniors will be one of the central issues in the U.S. Senate race between Mack and Sen. Bill Nelson. Florida Voices requested by telephone and e-mail that Mack respond to our roundtable question, but neither he nor anyone from his Congressional office answered.

Even in his August 30 remarks from the main stage of the Republican National Convention, in Tampa, Mack made no mention of Medicare. But South Florida NPR station WGCU did quote him as responding to Democratic claims with this comment: “They want to frankly lie to the people of the state of Florida saying we want to change Medicare as we know it. We want to try to preserve it and protect it, and it’s the Democrats, Nelson and Obama, that are trying to destroy Medicare.

PolitiFact.com, however, the Pulitzer Prize winning fact-checking news organization that the Tampa Bay Times founded, examined this Mack comment and others and quoted Gail Wilensky, former Medicare director under President George H.W. Bush, saying that the charge of ending Medicare as we know it is meaningless. “Medicare is ending as we used to know it, and both parties have embraced that, and for good reasons,” she said.

On conniemack.com, the Congressman’s campaign Web site,  links to an overall statement that includes a brief biography and his fights against Obama policies as well as to issues and news releases, likewise, no comment about Mack’s position on Medicare appears.

Aubrey Jewett
Professor of political science, University of Central Florida

The traditional Medicare program faces a significant budget shortfall and cannot continue without changes. Medicare reform proposals from President Barack Obama and the Republican Party are quite different in several ways and could have political and economic impacts on Florida.


The President will cut more than $700 billion from Medicare expenditures over 10 years and use that money to pay for health coverage for people under age 65 who lack health insurance through the Affordable Care Act – commonly called Obamacare. Despite cutting money from Medicare and using it for younger people, Obama claims that under his plan Medicare recipients will see no change in their coverage levels. The Democrats say the money will be cut from doctors and hospitals. However it is doubtful that doctors and hospitals will accept those cuts or provide service at current levels if the cuts are made. The Obama team also said they want to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help Medicare extend longer into the future.


Under the Republican plan, which GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan wrote and Presidential nominee Mitt Romney endorsed, people over 55 would continue under the existing Medicare plan. Those under 55 could opt for the traditional Medicare program or purchase their own private plan, which the government would support financially. The financial support would equal the cost of the second-least expensive plan available. Anyone who wants a plan with more coverage would have to pay for additional costs out of pocket – those opting for the cheapest plan would receive a rebate. It is likely that for seniors to get coverage similar to existing Medicare they will have to purchase a more expensive plan – estimates for these out-of-pocket costs vary from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars a month.


Rep. Ryan claims that his voucher program would lead to cheaper premiums since competition can tend to lower costs – a recent Harvard study published in Journal of the American Medicine Association finds that is likely. The Republican plan would reduce traditional Medicare funding by a similar or greater amount than the Democratic plan but would use that money for senior health care rather than for providing healthcare to younger people. Significantly, the Republican plan would place some limits on traditional Medicare for those seniors that choose to continue with it.


Florida exit polls from 2008 indicate that seniors went for Republican John McCain over Obama by about nine percentage points. In the current election it is doubtful that Medicare reform will play a significant role in the voting decisions of many Florida seniors. Polls show that most seniors, like the majority of voters of all ages, are primarily concerned with the economy. Given the poor condition of Florida’s economy and their past voting behavior, Florida seniors are likely to favor Republican Mitt Romney. However if some seniors become convinced that Medicare coverage will be cut or become more expensive under the Republican plan than President Obama may lose Florida seniors by a smaller margin in 2012. In a close election that could spell the difference between victory and defeat.


While the current Medicare system is not sustainable and some kind of reform is needed, cutting back on Medicare spending (and both political parties claim their plans would cut costs) could hurt Florida’s economy. While tourism and agriculture continue to be the most important sectors, health care has been a fast-growing industry and one of the few economic bright spots in the Sunshine State. Florida has the highest percentage of seniors in the nation, and that means a lot of federal money aimed at that population washes through Florida’s economy. Cutting back significantly on Medicare spending would be another blow to Florida’s fragile economic recovery

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FloridaVoices User Comments

Congressman Ryan's voucher plan leaves several questions unanswered. What private insurance company is stupid enough to take on people over age 65, when they are beginning to use health care at high levels? If such an insurance company exists and it accepts the voucher, how would the program account for increasing costs which would inevitably lead to higher premiums? No escalation is included in his budget. Since Ryan keeps Medicare as is for those 55 and older, how will those under age 55 today react when they reach 65 and find their peers who are one year older receiving Medicare in its current form while they are receiving vouchers with little or no worth?

by Dr. Radut.