The attack ads arrive in the mailboxes of Florida voters and pierce the television airwaves with the rapidity of tracer bullets.
Medicare Advantage could vanish, reads a flyer from the conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform. Barack Obama raided $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, reads another.
Seniors could pay $6,000 more a year, warns an ad supporting Obama. Republicans Mitt Romney and Connie Mack want to end Medicare as we know it, warns Democrat Bill Nelson. Mack claims Nelson wants to rob Medicare to pay for the presidents healthcare plan.
Politicos have a shorthand for the chatter: Mediscare.
The dueling messages are designed to stoke financial fears in the swing state with one of the biggest senior populations in the country. And even campaigns for the state House and Senate, which do not have any control over Medicare, are being hit with the attacks.
Separating fact from fiction is easy if you realize that every claim is out of context, partially true, and just as partially false. But beneath the claims are some truths. Consider:
Medicare is projected to go bankrupt. How long that will take depends on the proposal.
Medicare Advantage, the optional Medicare program that insures about 1 million Florida seniors, is destined for change, no matter who is in office.
The oft-mentioned $716 billion was not cut from Medicare under the current plan, but redirected to other coverage.
And the more people get off unemployment and into the workforce to pay Medicare taxes, the longer Medicare will remain in the black.
Medicare is a top concern for many voters, according to a September poll from the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation. The only issues that ranked higher in importance were the economy and the federal deficit. That survey found 55 percent of Americans prefer keeping Medicare as its currently structured, while 37 percent favor a premium support system with a traditional Medicare option like the one supported by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
In Florida, Romneys surge in the polls has also shaped the publics views of his Medicare plan. A Mason Dixon Poll conducted for the Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Times and Bay News 9 Oct. 8-10 found that 54 percent believed that Obama would be more likely to do long-term harm to Medicare, while 40 percent believed that Romneys plan was harmful.
No one disputes that Medicare is destined to go broke because the taxes paid by workers and employers to finance the program arent covering the full cost. The federal government has been drawing down the Medicare trust fund since 2008 to make up the difference. Both candidates have offered proposals to address the problem, but the impact on seniors today is a matter of debate.
We cant say for sure that benefits will be reduced, but there is no guarantee they will be preserved either, said Larry Polivka, executive director of the Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University and an expert on senior issues.
Obama attempts to postpone Medicares bankruptcy from 2016 to 2024 in the already-enacted Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Obamacare. The plan generates savings by reducing payments to private insurers and provides incentives for companies that improve the quality of care but spend less federal money on administrative expenses and profits.