Medicare Reform Hits an Unexpected Roadblock

A controversial plan to overhaul Medicare that would turn the program into a voucher-like plan for Americans who are currently 55 and younger has hit a significant roadblock in the form of Senator Scott Brown (R-MA).   A moderate, Brown voted against Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan because senior citizens would have to pick up too much of the burden for rising healthcare costs.

“Our country is on an unsustainable fiscal path. But I do not think it requires us to change Medicare as we know it,” Brown wrote in an op-ed piece for Politico. “We can work inside of Medicare to make it more solvent.”  Brown is the latest GOP moderate to oppose Ryan’s budget, which would slash $5.8 billion in federal spending over 10 years.  Another moderate, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) said she’d vote against the bill.

“Why can’t I go along with the Ryan Medicare plan?” Brown writes.  “Protecting those who have been counting on the current system their entire adult lives should be the key principle of reform.  Second, Medicare has already taken significant cuts to help pay for Obama’s healthcare plan.  The president and Congress cut a half trillion dollars to the private side of Medicare — meaning seniors are at risk of losing their Medicare Advantage coverage.  Another key principle is that seniors should not have to bear a disproportionate burden.  But that doesn’t mean we do nothing.  If Medicare is to survive for current beneficiaries and future generations, we must act.  The sooner Congress addresses this, the less painful it is likely to be — but more difficult adjustments will be required if we delay.

We should start by making improvements to the traditional Medicare plan.”

New York magazine describes Brown’s words as a gift to the Democratic party. “Brown has a re-election in a blue state to worry about, and opposing the widely unpopular Medicare plan is smart politics for him, despite the inevitable backlash it will produce from Republicans.  Expect the standard cries of ‘RINO!’ and accusations that Brown has thrown the GOP under the bus to save his own thick, gray hide.  Considering that he could have easily stated his opposition to the plan without elaborating on its drawbacks at such length and with such quotability, they won’t be entirely wrong.”

Brown, who won an upset victory two years ago, has already been criticized for apparently changing  his mind on Medicare.  Brown said in an Essex County newspaper story that he would vote for the Ryan plan when it comes to the Senate.  The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is also criticizing Brown, saying he leaves many questions unanswered, such as whether he believes Massachusetts seniors should pay more for Medicare and wants a larger role for private insurance companies.

Writing in the “Right Turn” blog in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin questions whether Brown has actually read Ryan’s proposal. According to Rubin, “Senator Scott Brown is apparently so nervous about his reelection prospects that he has taken to Politico to write an opinion piece announcing he’s opposed to Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan.  After all, savaging Ryan and undermining the House Democrats worked out so well for Newt Gingrich.  Unfortunately, Brown’s objections don’t suggest he understands the problem of rising medical costs or Ryan’s plan.  Let’s look at a few of his assertions: ‘I fear that as health inflation rises, the cost of private plans will outgrow the government premium support — and the elderly will be forced to pay ever higher deductibles and co-pays.  Protecting those who have been counting on the current system their entire adult lives should be the key principle of reform.’  He’s simply doesn’t understand the Ryan plan.  It is phased in, beginning with those under 55 years old.  Current retirees and those approaching retirement aren’t affected.  He also says that instead of systemic reform we should go after ‘10 percent, or $47 billion, of annual Medicare spending (that) is nothing but waste, fraud or abuse.’  My gosh, why didn’t we all think of that!  Ryan’s plan does do that, in fact, but what serious observer thinks this is sufficient?  Brown also proclaims, ‘I’d also institute tort reform to limit frivolous lawsuits.’  Umm, so does Ryan’s plan.  Has Brown even read Ryan’s plan?”

Leave a Reply