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Campaigns spar over Medicare reform

Bustos says Republican plan would force seniors to spend $6,400 more

Cheri Bustos and Bobby Schilling
Cheri Bustos and Bobby Schilling

STERLING – Republican running mate Paul Ryan is likely to be forced to defend his plan to cut Medicare spending by $716 billion when he debates Vice President Joe Biden tonight on national television.

On Wednesday, Democratic challenger Cheri Bustos tried to put first-term Congressman Bobby Schilling on the defensive over Ryan’s plans.

Bustos, in a conference call Wednesday morning with news media, said Ryan’s budget plan would “force seniors to pay an additional $6,400 out of their pockets for Medicare.”

She was joined in the call by Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

He said Bustos and Democrats have a better plan for Medicare.

“By cutting waste, fraud and abuse and taxpayer handouts to private Medicare plans, we believe Cheri Bustos has the best prescription for protecting Medicare,” Adcock said in a statement.

But Schilling spokesman Jon Schweppe told Sauk Valley Media that Bustos’ claims are false. He pointed to a Wall Street Journal article in August called “The $6,400 Myth.”

The article says, “The claim is based on a now out-of-date Congressional Budget Office estimate of the gap between the cost of health care a decade from now, in 2022, and the size of the House budget’s premium-support subsidy for a typical 65-year-old in 2022.

“In other words, the $6,400 has no relevance for any senior today.”

Schweppe said a plan Schilling voted for keeps Medicare benefits unchanged for people 55 and older and also supports benefits for future retirees.

“The plan opens it up for competition to lower costs; people still have the right to stay on the same plan,” he said.

“If we do nothing, Medicare will go bankrupt by 2024,” Schweppe said. “It’s very easy to demagogue and criticize. Medicare is set to be insolvent by 2024.”

Bustos said, however, that she wants to balance the budget “the right way.”

“If I’m elected to Congress, I will never support a plan that balances the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it,” she said.

Adcock said that Medicare cuts proposed by Ryan and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would create a voucher system – privatizing Medicare for the benefit of insurance companies and making it harder for seniors to choose their own doctors.

According to McClatchey-Tribune News Service, Romney’s proposed overhaul wouldn’t affect current Medicare beneficiaries or those nearing retirement, only those who enter Medicare beginning in 2023. Starting in 2023, he’d give government vouchers to people to buy their own insurance.

The idea is that private insurance companies would compete for that business, providing more value and better quality while driving down prices. If their medical costs exceed the amount of their voucher, seniors would have to pay the difference regardless of whether they’ve chosen private insurance or traditional Medicare.

The amount of the voucher would be equal to the cost of traditional Medicare in that area or the second least expensive private plan that offers benefits equivalent to Medicare – whichever is less. The voucher amount and the cost of coverage would differ depending on the region of the country.

President Barack Obama’s plan to cut $716 billion in Medicare spending from 2013 to 2022 would come mainly from lower annual payment increases for hospitals and other care providers, higher premiums for affluent beneficiaries and lower payments to Medicare Advantage plans, the private plans that provide Medicare benefits, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Bustos said she wants to ensure Medicare’s long-term financial stability by putting common sense reforms to work. She said she can lower costs by “using electronic medical records and doing a better job of coordinating care.”

Bustos, a former East Moline alderwoman, is challenging Schilling in the redrawn 17th Congressional District, which now includes all of Sterling and Rock Falls.

Debate tonight

17th Congressional District candidates U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, and his Democratic opponent, former East Moline Alderwoman Cheri Bustos, will debate at 6:30 p.m. today at the WQAD-TV News 8 studio in Moline. The debate, also sponsored by the Moline Dispatch and Rock Island Argus newspapers, will air live.

Sauk Valley Media reporter Kiran Sood will report on the debate in Friday's editions.

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