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Medicare Heats Up Biden-Ryan Debate

October 12, 2012

Medicare was one of the biggest flashpoints during the election's first and only vice presidential debate Thursday night.

The Medicare segment of the debate included some of the most frequent interruptions by both Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) in a testy debate as each took turns bashing the other side's impacts on the program.

Ryan blasted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act for cutting $716 billion from Medicare's growth over the next 10 years and for creating the Independent Payment Advisory Board to reduce future Medicare growth.

"Then they put this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors," Ryan said.

"I heard that death panel argument from Sarah Palin; it seems like every vice presidential debate I hear this kind of stuff about panels," Biden countered.

Biden attacked the Republican ticket's proposal to "voucherize" Medicare by adding an option for beneficiaries who are now 55 and younger that allows them to choose between a subsidized private plan and traditional Medicare.

"It will not keep pace with healthcare costs because if it did keep pace with healthcare costs there would be no savings," Biden said. "That's why they go with the voucher."

"We would rather have 50 million future seniors determine how their Medicare is delivered to them instead of 15 bureaucrats deciding what, if, where, when they get it," Ryan countered.

Biden repeatedly framed his Medicare criticisms by citing a $6,400 increase in annual Medicare costs for each senior under an earlier Medicare proposal authored by Ryan, according to an estimate by a liberal budget group.

"That's what politicians do when they don't have record to run on, try to scare people from voting for you," Ryan said.

But Biden's strident criticism was likely effective, said Dr. Daniel Ceccoli, a pre-med assistant professor at Lynn University, in the battleground and senior-heavy state of Florida.

"So when you are talking about cutting benefits, or you are talking about changing benefits, or you are talking about not specifically using the term 'vouchers' but using some other less-specific term to indicate that you are going to change Medicare policy for the future, that scares the constituency down here," Ceccoli said in an interview after the debate.

Conversely, he did not see Ryan's criticisms of the president's healthcare law as very effective.

"Obama and Biden say that the $716 billion is something that is going to be coming out of the pockets of doctors and hospitals and insurance companies and I think senior citizens will be very encouraged by that rather than discouraged by that," he said.

Rich Daly writes for Modern Healthcare, a sister publication of Workforce Management. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com.

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