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Winning the Medicare Debate

Over the past two months, the Medicare reforms contained in Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal have become an important part of the Democratic message and an issue of controversy.  Republicans will need to rebut Democratic mischaracterizations and refocus the debate in a winning way as we move toward 2012.

This memo summarizes some recent public opinion and messaging data and our thoughts on how Republican Elected Officials like you can redirect and win this messaging battle in the months and year to come.

Key Message Points

We need to counter-punch with the fact that the Democrats are the only ones who have voted to cut Medicare for current beneficiaries.

· In 2010, Republicans won 59% of the senior vote according to national exit polls, up from just 48% in 2006.  This was in no small part because of the $500 million in Medicare cuts in the Obama healthcare bill.

o By Election Day in 2010, a plurality (34%) of Americans believed the healthcare bill would hurt Medicare according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll.

o This has not changed substantially as a plurality (31%) of Americans still believes the healthcare plan hurts Medicare.

The focus of this debate needs to shift from the deficit to the future of Medicare itself.

· Unfortunately, a majority of Americans think that Medicare cuts are not necessary to balance the budget.

o A recent Associated Press/GfK poll (May 5-9) showed that a majority of Americans (54%) believe the budget can be balanced without changing Medicare.

o But, the facts are overwhelming—even government bureaucrats say that Medicare already pays out more than it takes in and it will be bankrupt in short order—this is not a budget argument so much as it a separate, program argument.

Because changes to the program are going to have to happen, we need to win the fight on our ideas to fix it versus the Democrats’ plans.

· Coupling Medicare reform with the budget debate was a losing idea, but the war of our plan versus the Democratic plan is a potential winner.

o Americans have long believed that Medicare is in a state of crisis.  As long ago as 2005, a super-majority of Americans (64%) thought the Medicare system faced either a crisis or major problems (Quinnipiac Poll, 1/15-31/05).

o The Democrats only solution is to put bureaucrats in charge of making healthcare choices under Medicare while our plan will preserve the doctor-patient relationship and keep the government out of these critical decisions.  We won this exact fight once before, in 1994, and can win it again if positioned this way.

Implications

We made a mistake in wrapping Medicare into the deficit fight because we allowed Democrats the opportunity to paint us as “sacrificing” Medicare, a necessity voters are unwilling to accept.  But, if we position the fight as one over the future of Medicare itself, the data suggests we have the opportunity to succeed by:

· Reminding voters that Democrats are the one who recently made major cuts in Medicare as part of their over-reaching healthcare bill;

· Reinforcing the belief that something must be done to fix a system in crisis; and

· Position our solution as the one that preserves the doctor-patient decision-making system while the Democrats will have to impose government bureaucrats on the decision-making in order to keep the system solvent.

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