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Republican gut punch

“Should Congress have cut Medicare half a trillion dollars to pay for ObamaCare?” asked a 2010 ad for Republican newcomer Renee Ellmers in North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district. 

That theme — “Obama’s coming for your Medicare!” — helped Ellmers and GOP candidates across the nation consolidate the senior vote, winning that crucial voting bloc by a 59-38 margin. In 2008, Democrats won seniors by 49-48. The dramatic shift was a massive component of the GOP wave.

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It was a dishonest attack, of course. The Democratic healthcare law cut $126 billion from Medicare Advantage over 10 years, not half a trillion. And Medicare Advantage, which allowed seniors to get healthcare via private insurers, was an inefficient and wasteful experiment to see whether private companies could deliver health services more efficiently than the government. It failed. In fact, Medicare Advantage cost 11 percent more to run than standard Medicare for identical services.

Yet “fiscally responsible” Republicans successfully demagogued the issue all the way to a majority, winning precious senior support with promises to “protect Medicare.” Those promises are now officially history. Republicans are now rewarding seniors for their vote by punching them in the gut.

GOP Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) has fired the first shot in a new war to destroy the benefit structure that seniors paid for throughout their working lives. Under his plan, seniors will no longer enroll in Medicare, but rather receive vouchers to try and secure care through private insurers. Ryan’s plan delays implementation for 10 years to ward off the wrath of current seniors, but the end result is the same — the elimination of a program Republicans pretended to protect.

After all, if the plan is so great for seniors, why wait until 2021 to implement it? 

Ryan’s plan would cap the growth of vouchers to a hair over the rate of inflation. However, the cost of medical services has far outpaced inflation. So what happens when the vouchers aren’t enough to cover the cost of expensive life-saving medical procedures? If Republicans won’t bargain with drug companies or limit reimbursements to doctors (and they won’t), the only thing left would be real-world death panels.

In other words, seniors would die, needlessly and prematurely.

It is no coincidence that Republicans are using this moment to try and discredit the AARP, which will undoubtedly push back against this irresponsible plan. The House Ways and Means Committee has launched an investigation into the organization’s finances, arguing that its support for last year’s healthcare reform measure should invalidate its tax-exempt status. “Republicans are desperate to try to break the trust that America’s seniors have in AARP,” said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) during the committee hearings. “They need to do so before they announce their budget that will devastate Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.”

If Republicans were serious about containing healthcare costs, they would take a fresh look at a public option, allowing Americans to choose government-run insurance that would compete against private insurers. But Republicans don’t really care about providing quality care at reasonable prices — they care about enriching their insurance lobbyist friends. 

Seniors allowed themselves to be taken in by the GOP in 2010. But their choice now is obvious. Republicans are done pretending. 

Moulitsas is the founder of Daily Kos and author of American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right.