Was Newt Gingrich right about GOP's Medicare plan?

After Newt Gingrich called Paul Ryan's Medicare plan 'radical,' he accepted party demands to recant his statements. But polls show that most Americans do not want changes to Medicare.

Charlie Neibergall / AP
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during the Kiwanis Club luncheon on Monday in Dubuque, Iowa.

Newt Gingrich has apologized for labeling the Republican plan to overhaul Medicare a “radical change” and “right-wing social engineering.” A contrite Mr. Gingrich appeared on Fox News Tuesday night, saying he had been in touch with Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, the plan’s architect, and that he supported Congressman Ryan’s budget goals.

While the party faithful may have demanded an apology from the former House Speaker, most Americans appear to be as wary of major changes to Medicare.

A recent poll shows that most Americans resist changes to Medicare – but that those opinions are susceptible to change, depending on the language used to describe the plan's consequences.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released in late April found that 57 percent of Americans opposed cuts to Medicare, and 84 percent opposed making seniors pay more for Medicare. Ryan's plan would do both.

Polls consistently show that most Americans oppose Medicare cuts, with similar results found by USA Today and NBC/The Wall Street Journal pollsters.

Some angry constituents have confronted Republican lawmakers about the proposed overhaul at town hall meetings.

Attitudes on Medicare open to change?

Pollsters stress that public opinion on a Medicare overhaul is malleable. Kaiser found in its April poll that giving respondents positive and negative consequences of a Ryan-like overhaul caused a significant number of people to change their answers.

While 50 percent of respondents initially said they were in favor of keeping Medicare as is, that number fell to 39 percent when respondents were told that a voucher system might reduce the deficit, preserve Medicare for future generations, and give seniors more health-care options.

Ryan estimates that his plan to make Medicare into a voucher-like system would cut $389 billion in Medicare spending over 10 years.

Conversely, the 46 percent of respondents who favored changing Medicare to a voucher system fell to just 24 percent when they were told that opponents said such a program would put private insurance companies in charge of Medicare and force seniors to pay more for fewer benefits.

The Congressional Budget Office has said seniors would pay more for health care under the Ryan plan.

The Kaiser poll’s authors concluded, “Whichever side does a better job getting its arguments across may ultimately win the public’s favor.”

For his part, Gingrich does not seem interested in moving public favor against Ryan's plan. Appearing on Fox News Tuesday night, he called his previous statements against the plan "inaccurate and unfortunate."

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