KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

Candidates Discuss Medicare, Medicaid Spending

News outlets report on the role of Medicare and Medicaid spending in this year's elections.

The New York Times: While Republicans are campaigning on cutting federal spending and replacing the new health law, "Republican candidates and party leaders are offering few specifics about how they would tackle the nation's $13.7 trillion debt, and budget analysts said the party was glossing over the difficulty of carrying out its ideas, especially when sharp spending cuts could impede an already weak economic recovery. … Calculations by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other independent fiscal experts show that the $1.1 trillion cost over the next 10 years of the Medicare prescription drug program, which the Republican-controlled Congress adopted in 2003, by itself would add more to the deficit than the combined costs of the bailout, the stimulus and the health care law." 

Repealing the health law would "actually increase the deficit by more than $100 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office, by eliminating some cost-saving provisions - a fact that typically goes unmentioned. Republicans counter that the full cost of the health care law will only kick in later, so that repeal would save money in the long run" (Herszenhorn, 10/19).

The New York Times, in a reported column, provides additional context: Medicare will be the major cause of the budget deficits over the coming decades because of the "growing numbers of baby boomers while health costs are likely to keep going up. It won't be possible to pay the bill by cutting other programs. They're not big enough. Making big cuts to everything but Medicare and Social Security - shrinking the military and other programs to their smallest share of the economy since World War II - might save $200 billion a year by 2035. But by then, annual Medicare spending is projected to grow by more than $1 trillion. So any deficit strategy needs to focus on Medicare" (Leonhardt, 10/19).

The Fiscal Times spoke with Ted Fishman, author of the new book "Shock of Gray" about the aging of the American population and how it will affect health costs (Mackey, 10/19).

The Associated Press: Stimulus spending, including emergency Medicaid funds, is another major campaign topic. "The stimulus program has kept many state and local governments fiscally viable, and the money has been a boon to the construction industry, financing thousands of road and bridge projects. In other areas - tax cuts, Medicaid health benefits, unemployment checks, food stamps - the stimulus has provided some relief to millions suffering in a tough economy. Still, voters are skeptical of the price tag. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that 68 percent considered the stimulus money 'wasted,' with only 29 percent describing it as mostly well spent" (10/20).

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