Republicans, like Democrats, opposed to cutting Medicare benefits, wary of privatization

Kaiser Health Tracking Poll

August 2012

When it comes to Medicare, one of the most notable aspects of Republicans’ views is how uncharacteristically similar they are to those of Democrats and Independents, according to this month’s Post/Kaiser poll. A large majority of Republicans (69 percent) say they are opposed to reducing Medicare benefits, even in the service of debt reduction. At the same time, roughly six in ten Republicans would support cuts in benefits if they were targeted only at high income seniors. In both cases, these views put Republicans on the same side of the issue as Democrats, a rare occurrence of late.

At the same time, a majority of Republicans (55 percent) currently say they prefer that Medicare continue as a defined benefits program, rather than changing to a system in which seniors are guaranteed a fixed amount of money to be used to buy coverage either from Medicare or from a private plan, an option supported by 39 percent of Republicans. Here again, the balance of opinion among Republicans puts them closer to the views of Democrats and Independents than usual in this area. The issue is set up to be an important one this fall given Representative Ryan’s advocacy of moving toward some sort of premium support model, though both Representative Ryan and Governor Romney have explicitly stated that any such change would not impact today’s seniors but would take effect for younger people when they become eligible for Medicare in the future.

Democrats share with Republicans a preference for keeping Medicare as it is rather than switching to a premium support system (68 percent prefer to keep the current system, compared to 29 percent that would back the change). They are also opposed to cutting Medicare benefits as a way to reduce the federal budget deficit (85 percent oppose), unless those cuts are targeted only at the rich, in which case two in three would be supportive.


By Don McCanne, MD

A large majority of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, are supportive of Medicare and do not want to see its benefits reduced, nor do they want it privatized through a defined contribution, premium support, or voucherized program. As dissatisfaction with our current dysfunctional health care financing system increases, it is inevitable that the public will eventually support an improved Medicare for everyone.

One concern in this poll is that Republicans and Democrats alike believe that Medicare benefits should be reduced for the wealthy. That would be a terrible mistake, and not only because of the administrative headache that would be created trying to match benefits with labile incomes. The wealthy will have to contribute more, but that should be done through progressive tax policies that are used to finance the entire system. The full complement of benefits should always be there for all of us, reinforcing the importance of social solidarity that is characteristic of the very successful health care programs in other nations.

Re-posted with permission from