GOP debuts new Medicare attack line

Republican campaign officials are using the Obama administration's proposed changes to Medicare Part D to launch new attacks against vulnerable Democrats.

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The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) sought to link the new conflict over prescription drug policies to 26 Democratic candidates in statements released Thursday.

The statements accused members like Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.) of allowing the federal government to interfere with seniors' healthcare and sought to tie new rules in Part D to ObamaCare.

"First ObamaCare and now Medicare Part D. … Seniors are being thrown a one-two punch from Ron Barber and House Democrats who have supported this failed law," said NRCC Communications Director Andrea Bozek in a release.

The statements are a sign that Republicans are honing their healthcare attack lines, as election season heats up.

ObamaCare remains the tip of the spear for the GOP in 2014, but groups like the NRCC have recently turned to Medicare, a perennial midterm election issue, for new attack fodder.

The approach is aimed specifically at older midterm voters for whom healthcare, and Medicare specifically, is a major issue at the polls.

Thursday's statements on Part D refer to wide-ranging regulations published in January by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The proposed rules would empower the agency to participate in Part D negotiations between insurance companies and pharmacies for the first time out of concerns about cost and access.

The regs would also open plans' preferred networks to a wider range of pharmacies, limit plan bids within a region and remove "protected class" designations for certain types of drugs.

The CMS argues the changes are necessary to save money, hold plans and providers to account, and enhance consumer choice within Part D.

But despite praise from some quarters of the healthcare world, most of the reaction from business groups, insurers and drug companies has been negative.

Republican lawmakers have also called on regulators to withdraw their proposal, arguing it would disrupt coverage for millions of seniors.

On the heels of these critiques, North Star Opinion Research, a GOP polling firm, said this week that highlighting the Part D regulations offers "big upsides to Republicans and big downsides to Democrats."

"Our polling shows that seniors are overwhelmingly satisfied with their current Part D drug benefit plans," the firm stated in a memo on Wednesday.

"They believe the plans cover the drugs they need, are convenient to use, and save them money."

Thursday's Part D attacks follow similar charges against Democrats over looming cuts to Medicare Advantage that supporters defend as cutting wasteful spending. 

Twice this month, the NRCC has issued statements blasting Democratic candidates over reductions in the program.

While the statements do not rise to the level of paid advertisements, they are seen as precursors to TV and radio spots down the line.

Barber's campaign responded to the statement by hitting Republican challenger Martha McSally over the GOP's support for certain Medicare cuts.

"Arizona seniors know the truth — Ron Barber has fought to protect Medicare from [House Budget Committee Chairman] Paul Ryan and Martha McSally's plan to drastically cut it back," said campaign spokesman Rodd McLeod in a statement. 

"Maybe that's the reason Martha McSally has refused to answer questions about Medicare for more than a year."

—This post was updated with McLeod's statement at 3:30 p.m.