The Agenda

Kaiser Health News on the Romney Preliminary Medicare Reform Proposal

Austin Frakt makes an important observation: Kaiser Health News, a source that many people rely on to understand health policy debates, has seriously misrepresented Mitt Romney’s Medicare reform proposal:

Romney has promised that beneficiaries who like the current fee-for-service Medicare plan can opt for that instead of purchasing private insurance. But by giving beneficiaries a fixed amount of money to buy that government coverage, it is clear that Romney’s plan would move Medicare from a “defined benefit” program that pays a share of all medical bills a senior incurs.

The Romney campaign has explicitly included the following among its Medicare reform goals:

* Give future seniors a choice between traditional Medicare and many other healthcare plans offering at least the same benefits

* Help seniors pay for the option they choose, with a level of support that ensures all can obtain the coverage they need; provide those with lower incomes with more generous assistance

* All insurance plans must offer coverage at least comparable to what Medicare provides today

And then there is this:

Romney continues to work on refining the details of his plan, and he is exploring different options for ensuring that future seniors receive the premium support they need while also ensuring that competitive pressures encourage providers to improve quality and control cost. His goal is for Medicare to offer every senior affordable options that provide coverage and service at least as good as what today’s seniors receive. Lower income seniors in the future will receive the most generous benefits to ensure that they are able to get care every bit as good as that provided in the current Medicare program.

To be clear, Romney’s plan is to offer a defined benefit (“at least the same benefits,” “a level of support that ensures all can obtain the coverage they need,” “coverage at least comparable to what Medicare provides today,” “to offer every senior affordable options that provide coverage and service at least as good as what today’s seniors receive”). It does not “move Medicare from a ‘defined benefit’ program that pays a share of all medical bills a senior incurs.” Rather, it allows private insurers to compete to offer that defined benefit, and it pegs premium support to the lowest cost or second lowest cost provider, public or private, of that defined benefit.

It doesn’t seem like too much to ask a dedicated provider of health policy news to carefully read the material the Romney campaign has released on its Medicare reform proposal. 

The authors include the following:

The lack of details in Romney’s plan leaves an array of possible scenarios for what it might mean to seniors in the future. It does not specify how much money the federal government would contribute to cover their premium costs, whether that support would rise enough each year to keep up with health care costs, and what benefits all Medicare plans – traditional and private – would be required to provide.

This is true: there are a number of possible scenarios. Yet one thing the Romney campaign has made fairly clear is that its goal is to offer a defined benefit. And by definition, support would have to rise or fall in accordance with the price of purchasing the defined benefit. What we do know about the benefits all Medicare plans “would be required to provide” is that the goal is to “provide coverage and service at lest as good as what today’s seniors receive.” That seems like salient information. 

Thanks to Austin Frakt by drawing out attention to this report. 

Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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