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Obamacare’s Cruel and Inhumane Inflation-Indexed Vouchers
The president’s real alternative to Ryan’s plan is rationing.


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James C. Capretta

Editor’s note: After publication of this column, the author issued two follow-up blog posts on how the indexation of Obamacare’s vouchers works, which can be found here and here.

Hypocrisy and cynicism come awfully easily to some people.

Recall that in October 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama launched a ferocious political attack on his opponent. In debates, and then in tens of millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements, the Obama-Biden campaign excoriated Sen. John McCain for proposing to “tax health benefits for the first time in history.” Never mind that the McCain proposal would have provided a refundable tax credit that would have more than covered the lost tax benefit for the average household — and that the whole point of the McCain reform was to give individuals control over a tax benefit that today is under the total control of employers. Obama saw an opportunity for serious political demagoguery, and facts weren’t going to stand in the way.

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And this was no sideshow in the presidential race. It was a top-tier issue, one of a few that ultimately decided the outcome. Indeed, in October 2008, when the race moved from a dead heat to Obama’s advantage, no issue was featured more prominently in TV attack ads than McCain’s supposed plan to “tax health benefits.”

Then, after assuming office, President Obama had a very sudden and inexplicable change of heart. Taxing benefits for the first time in history really didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all. The change of heart was so thorough that Obama went from chief opponent to chief proponent of the idea in a matter of months. As Obamacare wound its way through Congress, the administration gave the concept a new name — the “high-cost-insurance tax,” or “Cadillac tax” — and insisted that it be included in the final version of the legislation, to the great consternation of organized labor. Now that’s shameless.

Fast-forward to April 2011 — the early stages of the next presidential contest. House Republicans — led by Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan — have drafted a budget plan to put the nation’s fiscal house in order. It includes a proposal to reform Medicare. Everyone who is 55 and older today will remain in the current Medicare structure. Those below age 55 will get their entitlement in the form of “premium-support credits,” which will be applied to private health plans of their choice on an annual basis. The government will oversee this new Medicare marketplace, organize the information and choices for the beneficiaries, and ensure that all of the plans meet minimum standards.

The program will begin in 2022, at which point the premium-support credits will reflect what the traditional Medicare program costs at that time. In the years after 2022, the premium support credits will be increased commensurate with the rise in consumer inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI).

By the Democrats’ reaction, you’d think this idea was the beginning of the end of Western civilization.

“Cruel.” “Inhumane.” “The end of Medicare as we know it.” From the president on down, liberals everywhere have jumped on the Ryan Medicare plan as the worst idea ever conceived. In the president’s budget speech last week, which was really just a partisan attack on the Republican budget plan, the concept was where he focused his most intense fire. According to the president, no proposal like the Ryan Medicare plan will ever meet his approval.

And what is it about the Ryan plan that liberals find so appalling and unacceptable? Well, according to the president’s speech — and columns by Alan Blinder, Paul Krugman, and Ezra Klein — it’s the fact that the Medicare “premium-support credits” could be used only for private insurance, and that the credits themselves would be indexed on an annual basis to consumer inflation, not health costs. They argue that, as the years go by, the credits will fall farther behind the actual cost of insurance, and leave seniors with larger and larger premium bills.

But, wait a second, there’s something vaguely familiar about how the Ryan Medicare plan is supposed to work. Inflation-indexed credits. Competing private insurance plans. Government oversight of the marketplace. Oh yeah: That’s the description of Obamacare that advocates have been peddling for months.



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