Mark Amodei said Monday that he would push to increase Medicare reimbursement rates if elected to Congress, although he wants to cut overall federal spending by 4 percent a year over the next five years.
Amodei said rural Nevadans are especially at risk of losing coverage because scarce doctors dealing with rising bills might refuse to treat Medicare patients if they can’t recoup their costs.
"The reductions to Medicare reimbursements, those are killing Nevada," Amodei said during a meeting with the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "You’ve got to restore some of those reimbursement rates if you want your people to have access to health care."
Medicare has been the central issue in the Sept. 13 special election contest between Amodei, a Republican, and state Treasurer Kate Marshall, a Democrat. They’re vying for the 2nd Congressional District to replace Dean Heller, who resigned to complete disgraced U.S. Sen. John Ensign’s term.
The district covers all of rural and Northern Nevada and parts of Clark County outside urban Las Vegas. It includes a population that’s generally more conservative and older than in Southern Nevada.
Marshall, in TV ads and on the campaign trail, has accused Amodei of wanting to do away with Medicare because he supports GOP efforts in Washington to cut costs and reform the health insurance program for people 65 and older, the disabled and others who qualify.
Amodei has insisted he wants to preserve Medicare for current recipients and those who have long paid into the system, while changing it for generations who are 15 to 30 years from retirement.
His suggestion that reimbursement rates go up is a new pitch aimed at older voters, such as his mother, Joy, who stars in his latest TV ad, in which he promises to "do my best" to protect the program. It also goes against the grain of GOP efforts to control entitlement costs, now more than half the budget.
President Barack Obama’s health care changes included $500 billion in Medicare savings, partly by slowing the rate of payment hikes to doctors and hospitals over 10 years. Amodei has accused Marshall of supporting what the GOP inaccurately calls a $500 billion "cut" to Medicare.
As state treasurer, however, Marshall wasn’t involved in the debate over Obama’s health care plan. In 2008, she supported then-candidate Hillary Clinton’s plan, which included the controversial "universal coverage" provision that, like the current law, would require most people to buy health insurance.
During the editorial board meeting, which lasted more than one hour, Amodei said he was more qualified than Marshall to serve in Congress because he has 14 years of legislative experience in the Nevada Assembly and Senate and could hit the ground running.
Asked what makes him different than Marshall — who also touts spending cuts and saving Medicare — Amodei said, "First of all, I have a voting record that’s demonstrated the ability to appreciate how insidious spending is when it’s unchecked. I have voted against taxes and budgets."
Amodei voted against a big tax package in 2009 despite bipartisan support in the Legislature. But he also voted for a 2003 tax hike deal, which has given Marshall a soft target to hit.
A former head of the Nevada Mining Association, Amodei said he also understands issues affecting that industry and rural Nevada, including water rights and economic development.
"If you’re into somebody who could basically go back there on the 14th or 15th and say, ‘OK, go get ’em Tiger,’ you’ve got it for the next 14 months," Amodei said. "Those are some pretty strong qualifications compared to being the state treasurer for six years."
The Marshall campaign dismissed Amodei’s record and shifting statements on Medicare.
"Once again Mark Amodei is trying desperately to deceive voters and hide his record of support for ending Medicare and his clear support for raising the minimum age," James Hallinan, spokesman for the Marshall campaign, said in a statement. "And we agree he does, indeed, have a voting record — one that increased taxes and gave himself a pay raise. If that’s what he means by hitting the ground running, we believe Nevada can do without that kind of experience."
Hallinan also said Amodei has called U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s "plan to end Medicare ‘excellent.’ " Ryan’s proposal to create a voucher program for future recipients as part of a budget overhaul wouldn’t end the program for current beneficiaries or those nearing retirement age, however.
Although he likes elements of Ryan’s plan, Amodei said Monday, he would not have voted for it. He said it’s flawed because it cuts the rate of spending but doesn’t immediately cut the U.S. budget.
"It gives you some point to start at as opposed to we’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing," Amodei said of increasing federal spending. "People are tired of that."
Amodei wouldn’t suggest specific spending cuts, saying he needs to examine the merits of each federal program. The goal, he said, should be to cut the budget by 4 percent each year for five years.
"I don’t think that’s Armageddon in a spending sense," he said.
Contact Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.