Paul Ryan’s budget plan “would privatize Medicare for future retirees, raise the retirement age and keep in place the Medicare cuts included in last year’s health care bill.” Although this characterization echoes the charges that Democrats have been making against the plan, this criticism was leveled by Rep. David Mckinley (R-WV). Congressional Republicans have planned to make the sluggish economy the centerpiece of their campaign against Democrats. The selection of Ryan has complicated this strategy. His plan has become one of the focal points of both the presidential and congressional campaigns. Because of its unpopularity, many Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the plan. In order to gain the upper hand, however, in the election, Democrats are seeking to make the campaign a referendum on Ryan’s Medicare plan.
Since its passing in 1965, Medicare has guaranteed medical access to Americans who are 65 and older. Despite the popularity of the program, Republicans have always opposed it. This opposition started from day one. Ronald Reagan was one of the most prominent critics. He portrayed the program as an infringement on freedom and proceeded to say “one of these years we will tell our children and our children's children what it was like in America when men were free.” In spite of his depiction of Medicare as socialized medicine, Reagan did not make any attempt to repeal it because of its strong public support when he became president. Nonetheless, the hope of doing away with Medicare has continued to be harbored by many Republicans. That is why Democrats are generally seen by a majority of Americans as the guardians of the program.
The Medicare plan put forward by Ryan radically changes the nature of the current program. In his proposals, Medicare no longer guarantees that the cost of treatment for beneficiaries would be covered. Instead, they would be given a sum of money in the form of a voucher, which beneficiaries would, then, use to purchase their own private insurance “from an approved list.” In case this voucher is not generous enough to buy an adequate health plan, it would be incumbent upon the beneficiary to come up with the additional funds. For instance, beneficiaries currently pay 25% of their overall Medicare coverage cost. Under the Ryan plan, their share of the cost would jump to 68%. Ryan, therefore, shifts most of the cost from the government to the beneficiaries.
Millions of older Americans are living on fixed incomes. Thus, they would not be able to afford the extra cost that would be imposed on them by the Ryan plan. The impact, then, of this cost-shifting would result in millions of elderly Americans being deprived of necessary care. In fact, there is an even deeper problem with the plan. To ensure that they would make large profits, insurance companies prefer selling health plans to relatively healthy individuals. Medicare enrollees, due to their age, are more likely to be in poor health. Therefore, even if beneficiaries were to be given a generous voucher, they would still find it difficult to buy private health plans on their own.
Americans, especially beneficiaries, know that their access to adequate medical care would be severely limited without Medicare. That is why they strongly oppose turning the program into a voucher system. Older Americans are more likely to vote than other groups. Elected officials and candidates could neither dismiss their concerns nor ignore their priority. Since they vote in large number in every election, it is, unsurprising, that many Republican candidates are taking steps to distance themselves from the Ryan plan.
Ryan is trying to muddle the issue by claiming that President Obama has taken $716 billion away from Medicare and funneled that money into the Affordable Care Act, thereby hurting beneficiaries. The claim was debunked by PolitiFact since the saving cuts were imposed on providers, not on beneficiaries. As a political matter, however, a campaign that focuses on which party would protect Medicare would more likely redound in favor of Democrats because Republicans have had a long history of opposing it and the Ryan plan, which would “voucherize” the program, is highly controversial. Consequently, as the election approaches, it would not be a surprise if many more Republican candidates start to denounce the plan more vociferously.