August 11, 2012

THE THIRD MAN ON THE TICKET:

Preserving the Medicare Guarantee: Why I've Been Working with Paul Ryan (Sen. Ron Wyden, 03/19/2012, Huffington Post)

There have been a lot of mischaracterizations. So, let's be clear about what the Wyden-Ryan plans really says.

Wyden-Ryan doesn't eliminate the traditional Medicare plan, instead it guarantees that seniors who want to enroll in Medicare's traditional fee for service plan will always have that option.

Wyden-Ryan doesn't privatize Medicare because Medicare beneficiaries already have the option of enrolling in private health insurance plans. Wyden-Ryan makes those private plans more robust and accountable by forcing them to -- for the first time -- compete directly with traditional Medicare.

Wyden-Ryan protects the purchasing power of traditional Medicare and private sector innovation to make both types of Medicare stronger and more senior-friendly. All participating private plans will be required to offer benefits that are at least as comprehensive as traditional Medicare and any plan that is found taking advantage of seniors or providing inadequate care will be kicked out of the system. Cherry picking healthier seniors will be made unprofitable by a robust risk-adjustment mechanism and policed by the Medicare administrators.

Wyden-Ryan would also uphold the Medicare Guarantee by ensuring that seniors will always be able to afford their health benefits. Unlike a voucher program that would give seniors a fixed amount of money to purchase health plans, Wyden-Ryan would adjust premium support payments each year to reflect the actual cost of health insurance premiums. In addition, low income seniors, including dual-eligibles will receive additional benefits to cover out of pocket costs - ensuring that seniors have the same choices regardless of income. Yes, if private plans are able to devise a way to provide the same health benefits as traditional Medicare for less money, a senior might have to pay extra if he or she still wants to enroll in the government option. But if you could get the exact same benefits for less money, why would you want to pay more?

Beyond that, Wyden-Ryan creates a catastrophic benefit that does not exist in traditional Medicare, ensuring that no senior is bankrupted by a major illness.

Finally, Wyden-Ryan isn't a piece of legislation. It does not include legislative language or specifications detailing exactly how the system would work. If Wyden-Ryan or something like Wyden-Ryan gets to the legislative stage, those specifications will be important to get right as the devil is always in the details. Right now, however, Wyden-Ryan is simply a policy paper intended to start a conversation about how Democrats and Republicans might work together to uphold the Medicare Guarantee.

Yes, just as some in my party criticize Wyden-Ryan without knowing what the plan really does, some Republicans will undoubtedly declare their support for Wyden-Ryan without knowing what that means or believing in its principles. Mitt Romney, for example, claims to have helped write Wyden-Ryan even though I have never spoken to him about Medicare reform and have yet to hear him declare that there should always be a role for traditional government-run Medicare.

Those who say they support Wyden-Ryan simply for political cover are neither helping seniors nor being bipartisan. Rather, using Wyden-Ryan for political purposes harms seniors by making a bipartisan agreement to uphold the Medicare Guarantee that much harder. Anyone who does this deserves to be called out on it.

Posted by at August 11, 2012 4:50 PM
  

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