Last week, Mitt Romney went so far as to draw up an endearingly simplistic whiteboard chart to reassure current seniors his plans for Medicare involve no changes for them. Paul Ryan, the newly-minted vice-presidential candidate, and Romney’s deputies have been pushing the same message. All of this stems from both Romney’s pledge to undo the cuts to provider payment rates in the Affordable Care Act, and to not introduce privatization or premium support into Medicare for anyone currently over 55 years of age.
But one program both Romney and Ryan have proposed cutting drastically and immediately is Medicaid. And while that program is mainly known for providing health care to the poor, it often provides health care to the elderly as well.
Medicaid helps pay for seniors’ long-term care, including more than two-thirds of all nursing home residents. Medicaid also helps support seniors with disabilities due to Alzheimers or stroke, with their Medicare premiums, and in general provides support for retired low-income Americans. All told, at least 6 million seniors rely on Medicaid, and account for a fourth of its spending.
Mitt Romney has taken cuts to Medicare, Social Security and defense off the table. With those parameters, his plan to reduce the federal budget to 20 percent of the economy by 2016 requires cutting every other program by 40 percent, including Medicaid. Given the portion of the program going to support them, such a cut to Medicaid would devastate current seniors.
In engineering the House Republicans’ latest budget, Paul Ryan was even more specific. Unlike Romney’s vague, over-arching spending cap, Ryan explicitly named Medicaid for cuts — driving the program down from 2 to 1.25 percent of the economy by 2023, and even lower beyond that. He would also block grant the program, which could provide right-wing governors and legislatures an opening to reduce Medicaid benefits even further, on top of the official cuts in Ryan’s budget.
Many seniors are forced to burn through their wealth and resources before reaching a low enough point to qualify for Medicaid’s additional support. The program is already so tight in its payments that Romney and Ryan’s cuts would reduce its eligibility still further — removing 17 million beneficiaries.