EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

August 25, 2012

Column: Ryan’s Medicare plan mirrors that enjoyed by Congress

Deroy Murdock
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — “Governor Romney now owns the Republican, Ryan budget that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare and the middle class,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California recently snapped.

“By picking Representative Paul Ryan, Governor Romney has doubled down on his commitment to gut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it,” Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada snarled.

Pelosi and Reid know better. Presumptive GOP running mate Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal is as extreme as the health plan available to every member of Congress. Ryan envisions average seniors enjoying Capitol Hill-style medical options. This, itself, would be a choice. Seniors who oppose choice in health coverage will be 100 percent welcome to remain within traditional Medicare.

Ryan’s “far-Right” Medicare reform is co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon liberal Democrat. (2010 Americans for Democratic Action rating: 100 percent.) Unlike most Democrats, Wyden understands that if Medicare traverses today’s path, by 2024, it will tumble into a canyon.

As he and Ryan (2010 ADA rating: 0 percent) unveiled their legislation last December, Wyden said: “Paul has also long-shared my view that the best way to hold down health costs is to give all Americans the ability to hire and fire their insurance company.”

Wyden/Ryan would do just that, although no time soon.

“Americans currently over the age of 55 would see no changes to the structure of their benefits,” their bill summary states. “Starting in 2022, Medicare would begin offering seniors a choice among Medicare-approved private plans competing alongside a traditional Medicare plan.”

So, Democratic horror stories about Republicans catapulting today’s seniors from cliffs prove to be lies. If the GOP ticket wins and enacts Wyden/Ryan, Medicare benefits will not change for a decade. If Romney and Ryan lose, however, seniors soon will feel the pain of President Barack Obama’s diversion of $716 billion from Medicare into Obamacare.

Ten years hence, Wyden/Ryan would let Medicare recipients request “premium support” payments. As Wyden and Ryan argue, “that would empower seniors to choose either a traditional Medicare plan or a Medicare-approved private plan.”

“Premium support” is a Dullsville name for a dazzling idea. It should be rechristened Insurance Assistance (unexciting, but fathomable), Kemp Grants (echoing collegiate Pell Grants, but honoring Ryan’s late mentor, former New York GOP Congressman Jack Kemp), Personal Health Grants (as columnist Quin Hillyer suggests), or MediChoice (as the TrueSpeak Institute’s Jim Guirard advises.)

These payments would offer “more help for those who need it” and “less help for those who don’t,” Wyden and Ryan continue. “Wealthier seniors who need help least would see their assistance reduced.” Democrats who hate rich people should love how Wyden/Ryan pinpoints benefits on poorer Americans.

Seniors would use these optional payments to purchase medical plans that make them happy. Thus, Wyden/Ryan mirrors the way federal legislators buy health insurance.

As FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson notes, “House and Senate members are allowed to purchase private health insurance offered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which covers more than 8 million other federal employees, retirees and their families.”

“The FEHBP offers about 300 different private health care plans,” Jackson writes, “including five government-wide, fee-for-service plans and many regional health maintenance organization (HMO) plans ...” While this huge number includes all policies, nationwide, “an enrollee’s choice is between 5 and 15 options,” the Congressional Research Service reports.

As FactCheck.org further details, “All plans cover hospital, surgical and physician services, and mental health services, prescription drugs and ‘catastrophic’ coverage against very large medical expenses ... There are no exclusions for preexisting conditions.” Participants may change plans during annual open-season periods. Also, the government pays 72 percent of the average worker’s premium, and a maximum of 75 percent.

Democrats cannot explain why Medicare recipients need to become congressmen to enjoy such choices in health coverage.

If RyanCare, in essence, is good enough for senior citizens like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, it’s good enough for any senior who wants it after 2022.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.