In an attempt to sway voters away from Republicans, the Tennessee Democratic Party appears to be using Medicare much like President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.
A recent TDP news release headlined “Rep. Tony Shipley Embraces Plan To End Medicare” noted Shipley co-sponsored “Health Care Compact” legislation that would have allowed state government to take over Medicare administration and benefits in the state.
The same news release went into the House districts of every Republican representative who signed onto the bill, according to TDP spokesman Brandon Puttbrese.
“Yes, we’re holding them all accountable,” Puttbrese said in an e-mail.
What the news release doesn’t say is the bill — introduced in the aftermath of the federal government’s 2010 Affordable Care Act — did not pass because its conference report failed to win a majority in the House.
The measure fell five votes short of that majority, although Shipley is recorded as voting for it.
The GOP-controlled House had added an amendment to the legislation stipulating that a state health compact must not “diminish, dilute or any manner abridge the rights and benefits of elder citizens” under Medicare.
But TDP claimed an interstate health care compact in Tennessee would force 800,000 seniors into TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.
“In times like these, extreme entitlement reforms that increase health costs and cut benefits for Tennessee seniors should be off the table,” Puttbrese said.
The health compact legislation, however, doesn’t say what state agency should be the program administrator.
“As a practical matter, there’s only one state-run program in Tennessee that even comes close to being set up to handle the administration of benefits for that many seniors, in addition to the 200,000 disabled persons receiving Medicare benefits — and that program is TennCare,” Puttbrese insisted.
Still, Republicans supporting the bill viewed it as leverage against the Affordable Care Act.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven states have enacted laws intended to create so-called “Interstate Health Compacts” taking a first step toward allowing a group of states to establish broad health care programs operating outside the ACA.
But the NCSL pointed out these compacts are not yet binding and will require congressional approval because they seek to substitute state control where federal law and regulations exist.
The TDP release also attempted to tie state House Republicans to GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney and his vice presidential pick, Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, who had a 2011 budget proposal including a Medicare reform plan.
The Congressional Budget Office determined the Ryan proposal would substantially change federal payments to Medicare and set paths for all other federal spending based on gross domestic product.
“Under the proposal, most elderly people would pay more for their health care than they would pay under the current Medicare system,” the CBO said in an April 2011 analysis.
The CBO said the proposal would convert the current Medicare program to a system where beneficiaries receive premium support payments — to help pay for a private health insurance policy — that would grow over time with overall consumer prices. Those payments, the CBO said, would vary with the health status of the beneficiary.
Without changes, the CBO also noted a spending increase in Social Security and health care programs will lead to “rapidly growing budget deficits and mounting federal debt.”
Ryan’s budget proposal was approved by the GOP-controlled House before dying in the Senate.
For more about the state’s health care compact legislation go to www.capitol.tn.gov. The bill’s number is HB 0369.