TPMDC’s Christina Bellantoni is reporting that Democrats are ramping up their efforts to portray Republicans as taking away health reform’s early benefits with a new 60-second ad that’s “timed to coincide with the government mailing to seniors the first $250 Medicare rebate checks fixing the so-called prescription drug ‘donut hole.'” The strategy here is to portray the GOP’s “repeal and replace” or simply “repeal” strategy (depending on which conservative you talk to) as an effort that will literally take away very tangible benefits from individuals and give them back to insurers and drug companies, pissing off enough seniors to really build some momentum for the health bill.
During his health care tele-town hall on Tuesday, President Obama framed the new strategy this way: Republicans “would roll back the rebate to help you pay for your medicine, if you fall in the doughnut hole. They’d roll back the free preventive care for Medicare recipients,” Obama said. “They would roll back all of the insurance provisions that make sure that insurance companies are not cheating folks who are paying their premiums. … They’d put insurance companies back in charge.” “I refuse to let that happen. We’re not going back. We are going to move forward. That’s why I was elected.”
The GOP response has been a bit scattered. There is a chasm in the party between the repeal purists and repeal and replacers, but even the later category is having some trouble explaining why giving seniors money to pay for prescription drugs is a bad thing. Here is Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) on today’s Washington Journal:
BARRASSO: 1 in 10 senior citizens are going to get a check. You have to show that you want to help folks, but who is going to pay for that? The nine other people. If someone does not get a check, you have just paid for someone who it is.
This is quite silly. First, the doughnut hole provision is closed with the many pay-fors in the bill, including about $80 billion from the pharmaceutical industry. Second, not everyone will receive a rebate check because not everyone falls into the doughnut hole. As Sonia Sekhar explains in CAP’s new by-the-numbers item, “more than one in four, or 26 percent, of Medicare Part D enrollees who filled any prescriptions in 2007 (excluding beneficiaries who received low-income subsidies) reached the coverage gap.” CMS will mail out partial rebates this week to 80,000 Part D beneficiaries who have reached the coverage gap, and will continue to mail out rebate checks to beneficiaries quarterly, as they reach the gap. Ultimately, approximately 4 million seniors will benefit and as Barrasso discovered, those are numbers that are hard to argue with.