Republican Mitt Romney began his day campaigning in Florida today, conducting a teleconference town hall meeting in which he reached voters via robo-call. Romney told listeners he was in Dayton, Ohio, “where it’s snowing” and will be "criss-crossing" Florida tomorrow (with a planned fly-around with former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.)
Medicare and health care costs seemed to be on top of mind for many listeners. Callers were told the call would be recorded, so we listened in and took notes. Here are some excerpts.
Bonita asked about health care costs and Romney answered that the Obama administration has claimed that costs would go down $2,500 per family under his health care reform when in fact “they have gone up $2,500. That’s a huge burden,’’ he said.
“The answer, in my view, is not to have government step in and lower the reimbursement rates for Medicare” because that will lead to hospitals shifting the burden and raising the costs on everyone else.
He said the answer was “not to run health care like a government-run utility, like a monopoly, but instead to provide into healthcare more competition.”
He did not offer details on how his view of increasing competition.
Romney said a second way he will hold down health care costs “would also put in place malpractice reform” to avoid the practice of doctors and other health care providers ordering excessive procedures and tests “just to keep from getting sued. It’s called defensive medicine and the estimates for $750 billion a year in additional costs coming from defensive medicine they call it.
“By having malpractice reform that would rein in excessive costs penalties that sometimes trial lawyers are able to exact will rein in some of the excessive costs of this malpractice where, by the way, a big chunk of the money goes to the lawyers and people who are injured don’t get what they might have expected.”
“Finally, I happen to believe that getting the government our of such a major part of health care, particularly Obamacare, is going to be helpful.
“Obamacare in my view is going to cause health care costs to go up and up even further.”
He cited a Congressional Budget Office figure and said they claimed that “their estimate is that Obamacare will cause health care costs to go up $2,500 a year more even from where it is now due exclusively to the provisions of Obamacare.
“So sometimes the president’s supporters say look at all the great things you get with Obamacare. You’re going to get this for free. You’re going to get that for free,’’ he said with a laugh. “What don’t tell you is that your premiums are going to go up by $2,500 to pay for those free things.”
“The plan that I have is repeal Obamacare, replace it with a series of provisions including malpractice reform that helps hold down the extraordinary inflation in health care costs.”
Romney has made the $2,500 claim during two of the debates and it has been fact-checked here. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in September that total premiums have increased on average $2,370 since 2009 but most of that was covered by employees and the family share increased only $801. The CBO report he cites concludes that when Obamacare is fully implemented, it should bring down premiums for employer-based coverage slightly, especially for small business.
The claim that Obamacare will add $2,500 is a reference to the individual market and will only occur if people buy insurance because they don’t have it or buy expended coverage they don’t have now, not because health care costs will rise.
Richard from Gainesville said he just turned 56 and also wanted to know how his Medicare and social security changes will affect him and his children.
Romney answered that there are “two groups of folks” one are those like Richard “who are near retirement” and the other is his children.
“There’ll be no change in Medicare or social security for people like you, Richard, or for people who are retired. The plan stays the same,’‘ he said. “That is by the way different in the presidents plan. Under the president’s Obamacare plan, there will be cuts of $716 billion to Medicare and you will notice a difference if the president is re-elected. You will find that some doctors won’t accept you as a Medicare patient because they have received much lower reimbursement rates from the government and they’re just not taking Medicare patients.
“So, when you do retire, if you’re on Medicare, you will find you can’t get the doctors you expected to get,’‘ he said. “Under my plan you will continue to be able to choose whatever doctor you want because there’s no change under Medicare or social security under the Romney/Ryan plan.”
Romney has made the claim about the $716 billion many times before, and even though we've explained that the facts play out a bit differently and PolitiFact has ruled the claim misleading, it must be working with voters, because he and others keep repeating it.
Romney said the biggest change for his kids will occur “if you kids are quite successful and making a lot of money.” In that case, he said, “their Medicare and social security benefits will be lower than they are for people who don’t make a lot of money.”
“We would lower benefits for high income people who are today young people,’’ he said.
“The current plan doesn’t change, but those that are better off will see lower benefits than those that rely on Medicare and Social Security.”
Sandy, a 43-year-old computer programer from Pompano Beach, said she voted for Obama in 2008 and “I see that may not have been the best course of action." She said she has a Ph.d in computer science but has been unable to find work for three years.
“I see, unfortunately, that this is not getting any better,’’ she said, but wanted “to get a clear understanding as to people like me who are already in middle age where and what can be done for us to be gainfully employed once again.”
Romney responded, “I’m very troubled at your distress in being able to find good work. That is very sorryful and I’m running for office in part because I want to help you and I want to help people like you.”
He described his career “which was not in government” although he acknowledged he spent four years as a governor. He said his experience in business and the private sector, and as a consultant to small and large businesses, he concluded that the U.S. has imposed a penalty to do business here.
“The penalty for staying in America is about 15 percent,’’ he said. “That may not seem like a lot but for every dollar a company is going to make they’re going to see about 15 percent in additional cost by virtue of being in the United States...That 15 percent, in many cases, is more than the profit they’re going to make.”
“What I have to do to get companies growing in American and therefore hiring in America is to make America a more attractive place to grow and invest,’’ he said.
He said to do that he will focus on reducing the cost of energy and “take aggressive advantage of energy resources” and bring tax rates down from 35 percent to 25 percent.
He also blamed regulation, particularly environmental regulation, as a cause for businesses to flee the U.S.
“Those changes won’t change things in the business world overnight. It will take a little while...but it will begin to change things and bring jobs home.”
Romney made no reference to the recession, the drop in home values because of the mortgage crisis, or the crash of Wall Street.
“The reason you see so many people suffering and so many people working for less money than before is because under this president we have made America less attractive to the private sector, to businesses small and large.”
He said that major companies have “record amount of money in the bank” but are “unwilling to invest in America because they aren’t confident in America. When I am president, I will change that.”
Bill in Amelia Island had already decided that Romney would be elected. “I’d like to be the first person to call you Mr. President.” He asked what could be done to make government more accountable and avoid failed policies like investments in failed energy start-ups like Solyndra.
Romney answered that government should not be in the business in investing in business.
“It’s not the role of government to be investing in companies,’’ he said, noting that “Republicans have done this same technique” but he would put a halt to it in the future.