About 13.7 percent of New Yorkers are age 65 or older, according to census figures. In the sprawling new 19th Congressional District, the percentage is several points higher.
As a result, Medicare has become a key issue in the race between Rep. Chris Gibson of Kinderhook, a first-term Republican elected in the old 20th District, and Democrat Julian Schreibman, a Kingston lawyer.
Few dispute that the pressure of an aging population and fast-rising healthcare costs is creating funding problems for Medicare. It accounted for 15 percent of the U.S. government’s spending in 2010, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. At least one of its trust funds could become insolvent by 2024, by one estimate.
Gibson voted last year to support a 2012 budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential candidate, that would change the program extensively.
Under that plan, Medicare recipients born in 1956 and earlier would continue to be eligible for coverage as currently constituted. Younger Americans, however, would be placed into a new program – still called Medicare – under which they would receive vouchers for health care. And starting in 2022, the eligibility age would rise by two months each year until it reached age 67 in 2033.
Many Democrats said the plan would end Medicare as we know it; some simply said it would end Medicare. Gibson picked up on that theme Monday in a phone interview.
“My opponent, unfortunately, is running a very nasty and deceptive campaign,” he said. “He has said that I voted to end Medicare. That was labeled by the nonpartisan fact-checking organization Politifact … the lie of the year.”
Politifact did indeed label the “end Medcare” claim the “Lie of the Year” for 2011. However, it felt obliged in late March to clarify that it was referring very narrowly to “end Medicare,” not “end Medicare as we know it” or any other description containing similar qualifications.