Rightly or wrongly, Medicare is shaping up to be a presidential election battleground. With 50 million participants and an additional 10,000 boomers turning 65 and joining every day as they enter retirement, the program is one of the fastest growing parts of the federal budget.
Republicans won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 election by claiming that Democratic incumbents had voted to reduce Medicare spending by $500 billion at the expense of current seniors. Democrats have since regrouped and are focusing on tearing apart the GOP plan for revamping the program, mostly for future beneficiaries.
A survey conducted earlier this month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found that among the 72 percent of adults of all ages who were aware of proposed changes to the program, 49 percent oppose them, 34 percent approve and the remainder is unsure.
Among people 65 and older, opposition is stronger, with 55 percent opposing a switch to a voucher program, which is what the GOP proposes, and 24 percent approving the idea.
Most people -- about 44 percent -- aren't clear on who is proposing what. Only 23 percent know that the presumed Republican candidate for vice president, Paul Ryan, is the author of a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system. More than 17 percent believe it was President Barack Obama who proposed this.
Some 66 percent of people 65 and older with low family incomes support keeping Medicare and Social Security benefits just as they are. If you throw older people with higher incomes into the mix, the status quo still trumps, with 61 percent in favor of leaving these social programs alone.
The trouble with this issue is its complexity, but it's a retirement planning problem that all of us face. It behooves us to make the effort to understand what's at stake.
What do you think the future structure of Medicare should be?