How Romney-Ryan Plans Would Hurt NY Seniors

Written by NY Press on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Opinion Our Town, Opinion West Side Spirit, Our Town, West Side Spirit.


By Clyde Williams

We have now had two presidential debates, and the issue of healthcare has been front and center.

In New York, nearly 40 percent of the entire state budget is spent on healthcare—and it’s rising every year. It’s clear that our economy won’t be competitive unless we figure out how to improve the quality of healthcare while also lowering costs. President Obama understood this, and it’s part of the reason he pushed so hard to pass healthcare reform.
After two years of arguing and lawsuits, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “Obamacare” is legal. Most Americans are ready to move on and implement the law. Yet the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill—led by Romney’s vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan—is itching for a new, and wrong fight: abolishing Medicaid by turning it into a block-grant program.

If you’re like most Americans, you probably think of Medicaid as primarily providing healthcare to the poor. But it also supports elder care for seniors. In fact, one out of every five seniors in New York state depends on Medicaid, and the program is the main funding source for over 70 percent of New York seniors in nursing homes.

If Mitt Romney wins the presidency, he and Paul Ryan are keen to push Medicaid to the states, giving states more flexibility to run the program—but likely with less federal financial responsibility over time. Progressive states like New York would certainly try to maintain current eligibility requirements, but realistically would face unsustainable budget shortfalls over time. And we all know where the cost burden will rest if neither state nor federal resources are forthcoming. Thousands of seniors on fixed incomes would suddenly face not only additional costs for living expenses—but also for prescription drugs.

This sounds like a bad deal for seniors, and it is. The good news is that seniors are increasingly wary of the Romney/Ryan entitlement plans, and these issues are impacting the presidential election (even if the GOP Medicaid plans are not well-known). Polls show voters in the all-important swing states of Florida, Ohio and Virginia oppose the far-reaching changes to Medicare and Medicaid proposed by the GOP ticket. Ironically, Obama is now gaining ground with a demographic group that he struggled with in 2008. Seniors backed Republicans in the last two presidential elections, but that support is quickly eroding because they don’t trust Republicans on the issue of entitlement reform.
Republican leaders love to talk about entitlement program reform as the main solution to the country’s budget deficit. But entitlement programs alone are not responsible for our budget deficit. Republicans never mention they created the overwhelming majority of this deficit by voting for President George W. Bush’s unfunded prescription drug program, an unfunded tax cut that mostly benefited the wealthiest in our society, and support for two wars that had no end.

Certainly, entitlement programs need to be reformed, or they won’t be there for the generations to come. But the notion that this burden should be shouldered by the men and women who are now in their twilight years goes against the time-honored values of American society. All must sacrifice—the top 1 percent , the 47 percent that Mitt Romney doesn’t care about and everyone else in America—but we cannot lose our essential core along the way. As Americans, we have always cared about our fellow man, and we can’t allow that to change because we now are living through difficult times.

The stakes this fall are high. For New Yorkers—and others in America, for that matter—this presidential election matters a lot. We all should participate in government, by holding our elected officials accountable. That begins on Nov. 6.

Most recently, Clyde Williams was a congressional candidate for CD 13. He served as national political director at the Democratic National Committee under President Barack Obama, domestic policy advisor to President William Jefferson Clinton, as vice president at the Center for American Progress and as deputy chief of staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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