Mitt Romney celebrated his 65th birthday this week, which made him eligible for the popular, successful Medicare program. The Republican presidential candidate's campaign wasted no time in letting reporters know a key detail: Romney isn't signing up for the health care benefit.
This is, of course, his right. But Romney's decision matters because of what it tells us about his approach to the bedrock American program. The former governor has already endorsed Paul Ryan's House Republican budget plan, which would eliminate the Medicare program altogether, replacing it with a private voucher system. Romney also wants reduced entitlement benefits for the most well-off Americans (which, obviously, would include him).
But Jonathan Cohn explained this week that the problem with Romney's approach is that his plan "wouldn't simply reduce Medicare coverage for the very wealthy. It'd reduce Medicare coverage for many other people, too."
[G]iven Romney's promise of a tight cap on federal spending, [the value of the voucher he would give seniors to pay for care] would likely decline relative to health care costs, so that large numbers of seniors would face significantly higher out-of-pocket medical costs. (Either that, or there'd be massive cuts to other programs, inevitably putting seniors at risk of other hardships.)
Romney has indicated he'd protect the lowest income Americans, by giving them larger subsidies. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that's what he really intends. But it's not just the poor who need protection. Given the budget constraints he's promised to impose, many near-poor people would end up in trouble. (And that's assuming he really would protect the poor. Given that Romney also wants to cut Medicaid, which provides supplemental coverage to seniors who need extra help, I'm not sure that's realistic.)
Why would Romney think that putting middle-class seniors at greater financial risk is even tolerable, let alone advisable? Who knows. But you have to wonder whether his affluence blinds him, or at least desensitizes him, to the threat medical expenses can pose -- and the difficulty older Americans traditionally have in the private insurance market.
Romney, worth in upwards of a quarter-billion dollars, can simply write a check for any and all of his family's health care needs. But the number of Americans who enjoy that level of financial security is extremely small.
It's why the DNC responded to Romney's announcement this week with a new video noting that he may not need Medicare, and he may even want to scrap the existing program, but for the rest of the country, this would be a disaster.