Connecticut Republicans run from Romney on Medicare

Washington — They embrace Mitt Romney’s bid for the White House, but Connecticut Republicans part ways with him on his controversial plan for Medicare.

At the first presidential debate Wednesday night, GOP presidential nominee Romney promoted a plan his vice presidential pick, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, has proposed to keep the Medicare system solvent. According to government projections, beginning in 2024 the popular health care plan for seniors would pay out more in medical bills than it collects in Medicare taxes.

The Romney-Ryan plan — part of a larger budget cutting proposal –would keep the current Medicare system in place for everyone who is 55 years old or older today. But people now age 54 or younger would be able to receive a fixed payment from the government, adjusted for inflation, to pay for either private insurance or a government plan modeled on Medicare.

But Connecticut’s high profile GOP candidates for federal office say they want nothing to do with that plan. Like their Democratic opponents, Linda McMahon, who is running for U.S. Senate, and House candidates Andrew Roraback and Steve Obsitnik are all saying “no” to the voucher plan.

“It’s one of the main reasons [McMahon] would not support the Ryan budget,” said McMahon spokesman Todd Abrejano.

Roraback and Obsitnik also say they oppose the “privatization” of Medicare and oppose the idea of vouchers.

All three Republican candidates say Medicare needs an overhaul, but this should be done in a bipartisan manner with all options, including the Romney-Ryan plan, under consideration.

“I don’t support privatizing Medicare. I believe we must work to find solutions which can win broad bi-partisan support and most importantly earn the support of the American people,” Roraback said.

Obsitnik said  “I don’t necessarily think vouchers are the answer, but I’m willing to listen to any idea on the table.”

Vows from McMahon, Roraback and Obsitnik that they oppose Ryan’s Medicare plan haven’t stopped their Democratic rivals from trying to tie them to it.

“How can a senator from Connecticut support the wholesale privatization of Medicare?” asked Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, of McMahon, his rival for the seat of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman.

There’s good reasons McMahon, Roraback and Obsitnik are running from the top of their ticket on the issue of Medicare.

Polls show a majority of seniors oppose the Ryan plan. So does the politically powerful senior lobby.

Connecticut, with its aging population, has about 562,000 residents on Medicare, and that’s a big voting bloc.

In July, Ryan was booed at the AARP Annual Convention in New Orleans as he told retirees and others in the audience that he wanted to turn Medicare into a voucher system.

But Romney said at Wednesday night’s debate “my own view is I’d rather have a private plan. “

“I’d just as soon not have the government telling me what kind of health care I get,” he continued. “I’d rather be able to have an insurance company. If I don’t like them, I can get rid of them and find a different insurance company.”

President Obama countered that the vouchers would not keep pace with inflation and force seniors to pay for health care out of their own pockets. He also said insurance companies would “cherry pick’ healthy seniors, forcing all in poorer health to subscribe to the government-run alternative.

“Those insurance companies are clever about figuring out to are the younger and healthier seniors. They recruit them, leaving the older, sicker seniors in Medicare,” Obama said. “Every health care economist has said, over time, the traditional Medicare system will collapse.”

Connecticut’s GOP candidates do agree with Romney’s charge that the president plans to strip $716 billion from Medicare, thus weakening the program and hurting seniors.

The Affordable Care Act will  take $716 billion from Medicare by cutting payments to hospital and nursing homes and the gradual elimination of a plan called “Medicare Advantage” which allows seniors to obtain health coverage though insurance companies. That plan is inefficient and wasteful, providing patients with no better coverage than traditional Medicare, Obama says.

Ryan’s Medicare plan also calls for a $716 billion reduction in the program to help pay for vouchers, but Romney, and Connecticut’s GOP candidates, don’t seem to mind that.