AdWatch: New Romney ad criticizes Obamacare

August 23, 2012 - 1:43 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — TITLE: "Nothing's Free"

LENGTH: 30 Seconds

AIRING: The Mitt Romney campaign would not disclose where the ad is airing.

KEY IMAGES: "Some think Obamacare is the same as free health care, but nothing is free," a male narrator says as a graphic of two pills forming an "equals" sign between the words "Obamacare" and "Free Health Care" fills the screen.

"Obama is raiding $716 billion from Medicare, changing the program forever, taxing wheelchairs and pacemakers, raising taxes on families making less than $120,000," a narrator says as a shot of an empty wheelchair and an aerial view of a suburban neighborhood appear on the screen.

"Free health care comes at a very high price," says the narrator. "The Romney-Ryan plan will restore Medicare funding and protect and strengthen the program for the next generation."

ANALYSIS: The ad oversimplifies President Barack Obama's health care plan and Medicare, two big government programs that have emerged as key issues in the presidential race. Medicare in particular, a popular program serving nearly 50 million seniors and disabled people, has become a flashpoint since Romney named Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House Budget Committee, as his running mate.

The ad first asserts that "some" people think Obamacare is the same as free care, but doesn't bother to say who that might be.

It then criticizes Obama for "raiding" money from Medicare to pay for the new expansion of health care coverage that is his signature achievement.

Both Romney and Obama are seeking to stoke fears among older voters about each other's proposed Medicare changes, each charging the other would gut the program.

In swing states that have large elderly populations such as Florida, Iowa and Pennsylvania, Medicare could be a key issue this fall. Retirees have often resisted changing the program.

The GOP ticket has also targeted Obama's health care plan, which includes reductions in Medicare spending of $700 billion over 10 years. What Romney's ad doesn't mention is that those cuts come from payments to health care providers, not from benefits to seniors. The ad also fails to note that the budget plan Ryan wrote included the same cut.

In turn, the Obama campaign has hammered away at Ryan's plan to shift future retirees into a system dominated by private insurance plans.

Democrats and Republicans alike have taken advantage of peculiar federal accounting rules that, on paper, allow Medicare savings spent for another purpose to also be credited to the program's trust fund for inpatient care. Obama's health care law used Medicare cuts to pay for covering the uninsured. The Ryan budgets passed by the House kept those cuts and applied them to reducing the federal deficit.

The ad's claim that Obama's health care law taxes wheelchairs is questionable.

The tax actually applies to medical device makers, not consumers directly. It helps pay for the health care overhaul's expansion of health care coverage to 30 million Americans. The tax is aimed at U.S. sales of medical devices used chiefly by doctors and hospitals, such as pacemakers and CT scan machines. Exempted are consumer items like eyeglasses and kits for many blood tests that people can perform on themselves, as well as other medical devices yet to be specified.

The Obama administration says old-fashioned wheelchairs and the newer powered ones will also be exempt from the tax under proposed regulations being finalized by the IRS.

The ad's claim that Obama's plan raises taxes on families making less than $120,000 lacks important background.

Starting in 2014, Obama's law requires most Americans to carry health insurance either through an employer, a government program or by purchasing their own policy. There are exemptions for financial hardship, religious beliefs or membership in American Indian tribes.

The penalties will be collected by the Internal Revenue Service through tax returns, but the IRS will not have the authority to bring criminal charges or file liens against those who don't pay.

About 3 million of those who could be required to pay fines in 2016 will have incomes below $59,000 for individuals and $120,000 for families of four, according to Congressional Budget Office projections.

The penalties will be phased in starting in 2014. By 2016, those who must get insurance but don't will be fined $695 or 2.5 percent of their household income, whichever is greater.