LANCASTER, N.Y. -- The two candidates for the 27th District Congressional seat traded shots Tuesday over Medicare and charges from both campaigns that the other side's party would destroy the popular government program.
Medicare is again becoming a top campaign issue, following Mitt Romney selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate. Ryan authored the controversial House budget proposal that would have drastically changed Medicare for future seniors. While Romney said he will come up with his own budget, he does support the fundamental change to Medicare.
That change, which passed with near unanimous support from Republicans in the House, would do away with the guaranteed benefit under Medicare and instead give future seniors a certain amount of money -- described as a voucher by Democrats -- to purchase their own insurance.
The Congressional Budget Office has said that will mean higher out-of-pocket costs for future seniors. The plan would not affect anyone under the age of 55.
2 On Your Side asked Collins if he would have voted for the Ryan budget. He called that a "hypothetical".
When asked about the specific change to Medicare, changing it into a "voucher" program, Collins declined to answer.
"Obviously that's a huge policy whether or not we're going to keep Medicare as a defined benefit plan or not, and it sounds like you aren't taking a position on it," 2 On Your Side Reporter Michael Wooten said to the candidate.
"I'm saying I'm going to be part of one of 435 members of the Congress that's going to debate the next budget that's going to be put forth by President Romney," Collins responded.
Collins' campaign is very aware of what happened to Hochul's last opponent -- Jane Corwin -- whom Hochul defeated, in large measure, based on the GOP budget proposal and its changes to Medicare.
Collins said Hochul used "scare tactics" to convince seniors their health coverage was threatened.
"They were scaring seniors purposefully, and they knew that was a false thing to do," Collins said. "They did it anyway. Kathy's already doing it again. She is a hypocrite."
2 On Your Side asked Hochul why she uses the phrase "end Medicare as we know it" considering FactCheck.org and others have called that assertion false. PolitiFact called it the "Lie of the Year."
"Claims that this would "end Medicare" - claims that were usually accompanied by images of elderly individuals - left the false impression that the Ryan plan would get rid of any kind of insurance program for seniors.
Furthermore, this plan didn't pertain to the seniors pictured in the attack ads - they would remain on traditional Medicare, with only new beneficiaries in 2022 and beyond joining the private system."
Hochul didn't take it back.
"The line, 'changes Medicare as we know it', 'ends Medicare as we know it', that's a direct quote from the Wall Street Journal," Hochul countered. "So I'll stand with that."
While Collins argues he would protect current seniors from any changes to their Medicare coverage, he attacked Hochul, saying she has cut benefits for current seniors. Collins asserted Hochul voted to cut more than $700 billion from Medicare through her support of "Obamacare."
However, once again, independent fact-checking organizations have said that is not true. From FactCheck.org:
"...that's misleading. The law calls for reducing the future growth of Medicare spending over the next 10 years by about 7 percent. Plus, the law stipulates that guaranteed Medicare benefits won't be reduced, and it adds some new benefits, such as improved coverage for pharmaceuticals. Those seniors on Medicare Advantage plans (one out of four beneficiaries), however, will likely see their extra benefits reduced. These private insurance plans currently receive higher payments from the government than traditional Medicare, and the law decreases those payments over time. In addition, the law calls for reducing the future growth in payments to hospitals and other providers."
Collins still defended his statement, saying a cut is a cut.
"The Congressional Budget Office calls them cuts," Collins stated, adding that "(Hochul) is supporting cuts to Medicare for seniors today, 55 and over, people who are getting Medicare. She is supporting $700 billion in cuts for these seniors."
In response, Hochul said she did not support that part of "Obamacare" but pointed out -- as many fact-checkers have -- that the Ryan Budget included the same "cuts."
Democrats also point out the savings from reductions in future Medicare spending are used for other health services through "Obamacare". From PolitiFact:
"One of those ways is to increase the scope of Medicaid. Another is to expand coverage of prevention services. A third is to help cover the Medicare Part D "doughnut hole" for prescription drugs."
From ABC News:
"CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) says - and Kaiser agrees - that spending will be reduced by getting rid of fraud and ending overpayments to private insurance companies. It sends a message to those insurance companies: Operate more efficiently.
And instead of cuts, the CMS says they will be able to fund new benefits, including free preventive care and broader prescription coverage, including closing the "doughnut hole" affecting seniors."