Medicare fight cranks up in N.C. - National - NewsObserver.com
BY ROB CHRISTENSEN - Staff writer
SPRING HOPE -- The political battle over Medicare began playing out in North Carolina on Tuesday, with town hall meetings, speeches to retirement communities, robocalls and plans for a rally.
The chief target was newly minted Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn, who last week voted for the GOP House budget plan that called for an overhaul of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled.
Ellmers, anticipating the Democratic attacks, hit the road Tuesday for the first in a series of town hall meetings to explain her vote. She came prepared with a PowerPoint presentation filled with charts and warnings about the perils of a growing national debt from people ranging from former UNC system president Erskine Bowles to economist Paul Samuelson.
"There are distortions out there being put forward by the left that Republicans are going to put Medicare out of business," she told 16 people at a friendly midafternoon town hall meeting at the Spring Hope municipal building. "There is nothing that could be further from the truth."
Ellmers was one of 50 Republican House members who were targeted this week with automated phone calls into their districts by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accusing her of trying to "end Medicare."
Also Tuesday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, whose district adjoins Ellmers, began a series of news conferences at retirement communities saying the GOP-backed plan would eventually require many seniors to pay large parts of their medical bills as out-of-pocket expenses.
"People on Medicare could possibly end up possibly paying half of their income on health care," Miller warned about 35 seniors at a breakfast at Whitaker Glenn Retirement Community in Raleigh.
He said the Republican budget plan, which is called the Path to Prosperity, should be renamed The Path to Profits for Insurance Companies.
Miller said he expects House Democrats across the country to stress the issue, which he believes is damaging to one of the nation's most popular social programs. Miller, of Raleigh, is scheduled Thursday to attend a "Don't Make Us Work 'Til We Die" rally outside the Social Security office in Raleigh. The rally is being sponsored by labor and other liberal groups and is aimed at Ellmers.
The Ryan plan:
The Republican plan drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and approved by the House would not affect current seniors, but would sharply change the program for people under 55. It would require future Medicare recipients to buy private insurance policies through the Medicare program.
Ellmers and other Republican supporters say moving health insurance for seniors to private insurance companies will work much better and promote competition. Democrats such as Miller say people are satisfied with the current government-run program, and say the GOP plan won't provide enough money to maintain the current level of health care services.
At her town meeting, Ellmers delivered a sober assessment of the national debt. With a series of graphs and pie charts, she argued that only a serious effort to rein in major fixed costs such as Medicare could reduce the debt - not popular remedies such as cutting out fraud or eliminating foreign aid, which would have little effect.
"I am not going to try to blow smoke up your skirt," Ellmers said. "I'm telling you the way it is because it is too important not to know the truth."
Ellmers said the Republican Medicare plan would be similar to the health plan offered to members of Congress, allowing people to choose a private insurer with the government under Medicare paying a set amount. Ellmers said having private companies provide insurance to the elderly would promote competition and lower prices.
She said funding for Medicare would rise under the Republican budget. She said under the Democratic health care plan passed by Congress last year, $500 billion was cut out.
"If you are 55 years or older your Medicare will not change," she said.
But Ken Ripley, the editor of the Spring Hope Enterprise, said that after battling insurance companies for the past four years, "I haven't seen dealing with private insurance companies is anything good."
Ellmers' talk seemed to go over very well with her audience.
"I thought it was very clear to what the Ryan budget says," said Bob Sutter of Spring Hope, who promotes peanut growers. He supports the GOP plan. "We do have to figure out how to spend less money. We can not continue to spend 40 percent more than we take in."
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