Politics & Policy

The Virtues of Premium Support

Senator Ron Wyden (D., Ore.) and Representative Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.)
Good enough for Congress? Good enough for us.

‘Governor Romney now owns the Republican, Ryan budget that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare and the middle class,” House minority 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 majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada snarled.

Pelosi and Reid know better. The Medicare-reform proposal of presumptive GOP running-mate Paul Ryan is precisely as extreme as the health plan available today to every member of Congress. Ryan envisions average seniors’ being able to enjoy Capitol Hill–style medical options. This itself, however, 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 Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon liberal Democrat (2010 Americans for Democratic Action rating: 100 percent). Unlike most Democrats, Wyden understands that if Medicare continues to traverse today’s path, by 2024 it will tumble into a canyon.

“Paul Ryan shares my belief that we don’t hold election certificates to sit on the sidelines, and that the only way to tackle some of the big challenges facing our nation is to work together on big solutions,” Wyden said as he and Ryan (2010 ADA rating: 0 percent) unveiled their legislation last December. “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 off cliffs prove to be lies. If the GOP ticket wins and Wyden-Ryan is signed into law, Medicare benefits will not change for a decade. If Romney and Ryan lose, however, seniors soon will feel the pain of President 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 explain, “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 the collegiate Pell Grants, but honoring Ryan’s late mentor, longtime New York GOP congressman Jack Kemp), Personal Health Grants (as columnist Quin Hillyer suggests), or MediChoice (as the TrueSpeak Institute’s Jim Guirard advises). This radical concept, as Hillyer recalled last week, has been endorsed and promoted by such right-wing militants as former Democratic senators John Breaux of Louisiana and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and President Clinton’s chief economic adviser, Laura D’Andrea Tyson.  

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 for poorer Americans.

Seniors would use these payments to purchase medical plans that make them happy. “By giving seniors the power to choose among competing plans,” Wyden and Ryan wrote in last December 15’s Wall Street Journal, “our plan would add a level of cost control, customization, and quality to the health security of older Americans that today’s Medicare is not in a position to achieve.” 

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, elaborates, “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, with 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.

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

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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