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Romney Medicare plan: Key details still in flux

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Romney said Sunday on "60 Minutes" that private plans will have to offer "the same benefits" as traditional Medicare, but did not get into details.

Q: Romney has said he would repeal Obama’s health care overhaul. Would he reinstate Medicare benefits improved by the law? They include closing the prescription drug coverage gap — the "doughnut hole" — and expanding coverage of preventive care with no copays.

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A: The campaign is silent on this issue, although Vice President Joe Biden is hammering the GOP nominee, saying Romney’s repeal of the health law would lead to an immediate loss of benefits for millions of current Medicare recipients.

"I think it would be very hard for (Romney) to take that away," said Berwick.

Q: Romney would turn the Medicaid program for low-income people over to the states, sharply limiting its future growth. The costliest Medicaid cases are some 9 million elderly and disabled people who also have Medicare, more than 1 million of them in nursing homes. Would Romney require states to institute special protections for this vulnerable group?

A: The campaign says Medicaid spending would grow under Romney’s plan, and states will have the flexibility to design programs that serve low-income people most effectively. But several experts said the federal government also has to require accountability from states.

"If there is no protection for these people a lot of states are going to start knocking them off the rolls," said former AARP CEO Bill Novelli, now at Georgetown University in Washington. "These are the most vulnerable among us. There has to be a way to deal with Medicaid without leaving it entirely to the states."

Q: Romney’s privatization plan would not affect current beneficiaries or anyone joining Medicare before 2023. But does Romney also guarantee that he will protect traditional Medicare from any future cuts?

A: The campaign is silent on this issue. Moon, the former trustee, says it’s an important question, and deserves an answer.

"I would be very nervous about remaining in a program that it has been announced is going away," said Moon, now with the nonpartisan American Institutes for Research. "Because there will be fewer and fewer people who will speak up for it over time."

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On "60 Minutes," Romney said: "I don’t want any change to Medicare for current seniors or for those that are nearing retirement. So the plan stays exactly the same."

Still, it’s unclear if that means a guarantee of no future cuts for those remaining in traditional Medicare, or if Romney is merely saying that the overall design of the program will stay the same.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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