Feature

Medicare reform: The GOP gets cold feet

Seniors are unhappy with Rep. Paul Ryan's plan to change Medicare, and the GOP is starting to back away from the proposal.

The public is speaking up on the Republican plan “to fundamentally revamp Medicare,” said Raymond Hernandez in The New York Times, and for the GOP, the news isn’t good. The Medicare backlash has become a major factor in a special congressional election in western New York, where a highly popular Republican state assemblywoman, Jane Corwin, was considered a shoo-in in a solidly conservative district the GOP has controlled for decades. Then the Democrat, Kathy Hochul, launched a series of TV attack ads on the GOP plan, created by Rep. Paul Ryan, to give future seniors a federal voucher to buy private medical insurance, instead of paying their medical bills directly. Polls now show Hochul almost erasing the Republican’s double-digit lead. At town hall meetings around the country, seniors have shown up to denounce the Ryan plan, said Chris Good in TheAtlantic.com. So Republicans are now “backing away.” House Speaker John Boehner said last week he’s “not wedded” to the idea—at least not in election season.

The Democrats may be gleeful, said The Washington Post in an editorial, but they should be ashamed. By having the guts to take on the Medicare entitlement, Ryan gave Democrats “a chance to reclaim the low ground, and they haven’t hesitated.” But preserving Medicare “as we know it” isn’t an option, because its costs are rising so steeply. That’s why the Ryan plan, designed to control medical costs through free-market competition among private insurers, deserves to be carefully evaluated—not caricatured as a “radical” plan to “kill” Medicare. Democrats have resorted to demagoguery because they’ve got no realistic proposal of their own, said James C. Capretta in National Review. It is “wishful thinking in the extreme” to think a panel of government experts can rein in costs, as President Obama proposes. This “board of technocrats” would be empowered only to make draconian cuts in payments to doctors. Yet Medicare’s own actuary says droves of doctors will respond to such cuts by quitting the program, leaving the elderly with few options.

The Ryan plan isn’t really dead, said David Nather in Politico.com. It’s just off the table until after the 2012 elections. At that point, Republicans and Democrats may meet “at a middle ground,” knowing it could be their best chance to deal with Medicare costs. The final result “won’t look much like the Ryan plan, or even the Obama plan.” But I’ll bet it will have elements of both.

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