Biden’s Medicare Advantage Cuts Are Tantamount to Throwing Grandma Over the Cliff

Published April 10, 2024

Cutting Medicare in any year is a politically perilous task. Doing so in a presidential election year by an historically unpopular president displays a trust in the tribal narratives designed to override voter intelligence. Partisans evidently think voters will never believe that President Joe Biden would dare cut Medicare. However, to the shock of many, rates were cut in the popular Medicare Advantage program as the Biden administration finalized its latest budget.

During the 2012 campaign season, a man who looked a lot like then-Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was featured in a TV ad wheeling an elderly woman through a park as America the Beautiful played over the sounds of chirping birds. Ryan, who was the vice-presidential candidate for the GOP in 2012, then dumped poor grandma out of her wheelchair and over a cliff as viewers were directed to call their representatives and tell them to leave Medicare alone (to keep America beautiful).

The 2012 Romney-Ryan ticket was ridiculed by the mainstream media for Ryan’s nerdy attempts to begin the long-overdue discussion about entitlement reform. Of course, his polite analysis was met with relentless ads claiming that “Republicans want to gut your Medicare and Social Security!” That narrative was punctuated with the exclamation point of grandma being flung from her wheelchair by the Ryan doppelganger. 

In 2024, Republicans are still constantly blamed for “wanting to cut Medicare” by the same guy who just cut Medicare. Last week, the White House published the following: “Extreme House Republican Plan Would Cut Medicare and Social Security While Slashing Taxes for Big Corporations and the Wealthy.” The White House failed to point out that this was not, in fact, the House budget, or even a bill. It was an analysis of a “study committee” paper, noting, “This analysis assumes an across-the-board reduction of roughly 31% compared to the currently enacted FY 2024 levels for non-defense discretionary (NDD) accounts.” This silly analysis was not put out by a political action committee—it was produced by the White House. Of course, it was meant to dampen any blowback from the Medicare Advantage rate cut.

In fact, Biden didn’t merely propose Medicare Advantage (MA) reforms a dozen years in the future. He cut rates from a projected 2.44 percent to 2.33 percent, despite industry predictions of a 4 to 6 percent growth rate. Medicare Advantage is often targeted by single-payer advocates because it offers choices to consumers. Rather than the one-size-fits-all Soviet model of health care favored by liberals, MA allows seniors to choose what they want included in their health care coverage. So, for Biden’s single-payer base, this cut is a good thing. But what about the seniors in Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Wisconsin?

Medicare Advantage (also known as Medicare Part C) is an optional plan that allows seniors to choose their own insurance plan that covers doctor visits and hospitalizations within Medicare. The plan is extremely popular and has grown quickly. As a matter of fact, 51 percent of seniors chose Medicare Advantage last year, doubling from 26 percent in 2010.

According to Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), “This Medicare Advantage benefits cut will result in the 2.8 million Florida seniors currently enrolled in Medicare Advantage, many of whom live on a fixed income, having their supplemental benefits reduced by $33 per month, or $396 per year.” Moreover, as Scott notes, “Nearly 60% of Florida’s Medicare beneficiaries choose Medicare Advantage because it works.”

You are unlikely to see political attack ads featuring Vice President Kamala Harris or Joe Biden throwing grandma over a cliff due to this cut to Medicare because it is extremely difficult to challenge long-standing political narratives, especially in the current media environment that we live in. But there is more to it than that. As political ads move from the TV and radio mediums to the smartphone/social media platform, voters are far more skeptical and unforgiving of hypocrisy. Who knows, maybe this year voters will actually understand that Republicans do not want to throw grandmothers over any cliffs; instead, the GOP simply wants to offer grandmothers, and all seniors for that matter, the ability to choose what type of health care options best fit their individual needs.

Photo by Gage Skidmore. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.