Carson, who now leads the GOP field in Iowa according to the latest Quinnipiac Poll, would eliminate the program that provides health care to 49 million senior citizens, as well as Medicaid, and replace it with a system of cradle-to-grave savings accounts which would be funded with $2,000 a year in government contributions. While rivals have been pummeled for proposing less radical changes, Carson hasn't faced the same scrutiny -- and his continued traction in polls has left GOP strategists and conservative health care wonks scratching their heads.
"This isn’t a borderline issue. The politics of this are horrific," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, head of the American Action Forum and health care adviser to Sen. John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign.
Carson's stance on the third-rail issue of Medicare is especially risky given his strength among elderly voters. In Iowa, Carson draws a quarter of the senior vote -- more than double any other candidate except Donald Trump, with whom he’s statistically tied among seniors. Carson’s support is even higher among voters between the ages of 55 and 64, who are on the verge of Medicare eligibility. He draws 34 percent of that age group, double Trump’s level of support, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
Carson's GOP rivals are largely holding their fire so far. Trump's campaign declined to comment, as did the campaigns of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. A spokeswoman for Bobby Jindal noted the Louisiana governor's support for reforming -- but preserving -- Medicare and Medicaid.
“Without change, they will go bankrupt,” said the spokeswoman, Shannon Dirmann. “Abolishing them is bad policy.”
The answer of course is a combination of our Village betters have been letting Carson get away with it, and that nobody took him seriously enough to read the fine print. Carson doesn't call it Medicare or Medicaid, he calls it "traditional health care". He's had this plan for more than a year now, but he's gotten very, very good at selling it while not talking about it.
Now that he's a serious threat in the GOP race, the Village has suddenly re-discovered his plan to replace Medicare and Medicaid with medical savings accounts that wouldn't cover the cost of a hospital visit and wouldn't keep up with medical cost inflation.
We'll see how much traction this gets, but I'm betting it's not going to hurt him as much as people think. He's had this position for over a year now, folks. Hasn't hurt him so far.
And if it's because "people didn't know" then maybe we should ask why that is.