Representative Paul Ryan has been one of the most talked about members of Congress this year due in large part to his budget proposal (“Path to Prosperity”) that includes changes to Medicare. Under current Medicare practice, doctors and hospitals are directly reimbursed by the federal government for their services to Medicare recipients. Meanwhile under Rep. Ryan’s plan, senior citizens will be given a fixed amount they can use to purchase health insurance of their choice. This is an attempt to foster competition between insurance companies hoping that it will lead to higher insurance quality and lower healthcare costs in the long run.
There is no doubt that the politics of this favors Democrats as future retirees around the country are concerned that the Medicare safety net they’ve contributed to for decades will cease to exist if Paul Ryan’s plan becomes law. In recent weeks, Democrats have been very successful in casting his plan as nothing short of an attempt to end Medicare. This strategy paid huge dividends in the May 24 special election in New York where the newly elected Kathy Hochul made Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan a centerpiece of her campaign. Her victory is viewed by Democrats as a blueprint on how to successfully frame this issue to voters. Just a day after the special election, Senate Democrats wasted no time in forcing a vote on Paul Ryan’s budget proposal in an attempt to get Senate Republicans on record as voting to “kill” Medicare. The measure was voted down by a vote of 57-40. Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Scott Brown (R-MA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) were the only 5 Republicans that voted against it.
While simply bashing Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan may prove to be smart politics for Democrats in the short-term, it doesn’t help produce any solutions that will make Medicare more solvent for future retirees. Rep. Ryan’s plan is not perfect in any way. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of his proposal states that “most beneficiaries who receive premium support payments would pay more for their health care than if they participated in traditional Medicare…” But regardless of anyone’s position on his proposal, Rep. Paul Ryan should be commended for his leadership and political courage in trying to tackle entitlements. To solve the country’s fiscal challenges, what is desperately needed from members of both political parties is a heavy dose of bold leadership and genuine bipartisanship which are currently in short supply in Congress.