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Mitt Romney's Medicare plan: Resurrecting the public option?
Romney wants the elderly to choose between subsidized private insurance and a federal system. Isn't that what liberals wanted for all Americans?
 
Mitt Romney wants to offer seniors the option of using government vouchers to pay for private health care, or sticking with Medicare, but footing part of the bill themselves if private care is cheaper.
Mitt Romney wants to offer seniors the option of using government vouchers to pay for private health care, or sticking with Medicare, but footing part of the bill themselves if private care is cheaper.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has unveiled a plan to replace Medicare with a system offering older Americans subsidies to help them buy private insurance coverage. Romney's plan is similar to House GOP budget expert Paul Ryan's controversial proposal to voucherize the system, with one important exception: Romney would let people keep their Medicare coverage if they didn't want to enroll in his "premium support" program. But if the private coverage that elderly Americans dismissed was cheaper, seniors would have to pay the difference to keep Medicare. Some critics have been quick to point out that this is quite similar to the choice — between a private health insurance option and a public one — that Republicans hated when it was floated by liberals during the health care reform debate. Is Romney really resurrecting the public option?

Yes. Romney is essentially proposing a public option: Liberals wanted to "pit private insurers against a public insurer" so private providers would have to lower costs or lose customers, says Ezra Klein at The Washington Post. That government health insurance was called the "public option," and conservatives hated it. But they seem to love the idea now that Romney is proposing it for Medicare. What they don't realize is that if Romney wins, and his Medicare plan succeeds, "the pressure to open the revamped, semi-privatized Medicare program up to younger and younger Americans will be immense." Welcome back, public option.
"Wonkbook: Romney embraces the public option"

Actually, Romney is moving away from government control: While I prefer Paul Ryan's entirely private Medicare model, says Joseph Lawler at The American Spectator, it's just not politically feasible. Romney's plan is, at least, a realistic step in the right direction. And make no mistake: This would reduce the government's role, and "could yield significant Medicare savings" by tapping the power of the market.
"Romney hints at Medicare reform strategy"

Romney's plan won't change anything: Liberals and conservatives are both wrong about Romney's plan, says Peter Suderman at Reason. The presidential hopeful's plan is simply "designed for maximum pandering." Romney is trying to please the Right by offering a private option to Medicare's public one, and he's trying to soothe the Left and the elderly by positioning himself as "the protector of Medicare." But under Romney's hybrid system, private insurers would likely be "unable to 'compete' with a heavily subsidized, artificially low-priced government-run insurance plan." The result? Medicare as we know it would win out, and the government would stay in control of seniors' health care system. This is business-as-usual masquerading as reform.
"Mitt Romney loves Medicare very much and won't ever let anyone take it away, no matter what"

 

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