Paul Ryan’s dystopian dream of privatizing Medicare may soon come true. At least he seems to think so. In an interview with right-wing Wisconsin radio host Vicki McKenna, the House Speaker said that Medicare “reform” is coming to the Capitol this Spring. “I’m pretty sure the budget committee in the House will pass that on in the House Republican budget,” Ryan said. In fact, House Budget Committee Chair Diane Black (R-TN) has already promised to include Medicare privatization in the budget resolution next month. This is scary news for millions of current and future retirees.
To justify his Scrooge-like assault on Medicare, Ryan continues to perpetuate the myth that Medicare is an “entitlement.” In fact, it is a remarkably efficient social insurance program. Having paid into it their entire working lives, Americans are counting on having affordable health care coverage to protect them upon retirement. Why does Paul Ryan want to take that away, effectively reneging on the nation's commitment to current and future retirees?
In the past, President Obama stood as an impenetrable barrier between Ryan and his privatization scheme. Though candidate Trump promised “not to touch” Medicare, the President has already broken that pledge by supporting the GOP healthcare plan, which shortens the solvency of the program. Despite Trump’s campaign promises, his budget director refused to publicly discourage Congress from privatizing Medicare. In fact, Speaker Ryan said in his radio interview that he and the Trump administration are having “an ongoing conversation” about it. Current and future retirees clearly cannot trust this White House to protect their Medicare benefits, which they have paid for during their entire working lives.
As we discussed on our "Behind the Headlines" Facebook Live broadcast Thursday, here is what Ryan’s insidious “reform” would do: Instead of receiving guaranteed benefits, all Medicare participants would be given vouchers to help pay premiums for traditional Medicare or private health insurance. In either case, the vouchers would not be able to keep up with rising health care costs, leaving seniors to cover the difference out of their own pockets. That’s why we call the voucher program “coupon care.”
Ryan's plan would likely drive healthier, younger and wealthier seniors toward private insurance. Poorer and sicker seniors would remain in traditional Medicare, driving up costs until the program collapsed under its own weight. But that’s not all. Ryan also wants to hike the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. This in itself is a massive benefit cut, as 65 and 66 year olds would have to buy private insurance on their own dime. Those who couldn’t afford it might go without health insurance entirely. In a recent National Committee poll, 65% of likely voters opposed raising the eligibility age. Among younger voters, the opposition was even stronger.
As Ryan predicts, Medicare privatization will likely pass the House as part of the Republican budget resolution. Its future in the Senate is less certain, but too close for comfort. Senate Republican leaders need only 50 votes to wreck Medicare. The National Committee is building a “firewall” of moderate GOP Senators who we believe can be convinced to protect Medicare. With an unpredictable President in the White House, that is the best way – along with vocal grassroots activism – to defend current and future retirees against the destruction of a program that has worked effectively for more than 50 years, and enjoys enduring public support.
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