Back in May, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi traveled to Milwaukee and proceeded to rip the Medicare reform plan of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican:
Democrats brought the fight over Medicare reform to U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s backyard Thursday, holding an event in the home state of the man attempting to turn the federal program into a subsidized private insurance plan. Democratic U.S Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., held a press conference at the community senior center in Waunakee, where they vowed to fight for continued funding of the social safety net that helps millions of seniors get medical care. … “This plan would abolish Medicare as we know it,” said Pelosi. “We cannot let that happen.”
So it was with some surprise when I read this in the New York Times:
Though it reached no agreement, the special Congressional committee on deficit reduction built a case for major structural changes in Medicare that would limit the government’s open-ended financial commitment to the program, lawmakers and health policy experts say. Members of both parties told the panel that Medicare should offer a fixed amount of money to each beneficiary to buy coverage from competing private plans, whose costs and benefits would be tightly regulated by the government. The idea faces opposition from many Democrats, who say it would shift costs to beneficiaries and eliminate the guarantee of affordable health insurance for older Americans. But some Democrats say that—if carefully designed, with enough protections for beneficiaries—it might work. The idea is sometimes known as premium support, because Medicare would subsidize premiums charged by private insurers that care for beneficiaries under contract with the government.
Now you tell us, NYTimes. Shorter version: Ryan’s idea of turning Medicare into a premium support system is actually a pretty mainstream idea. Former Clinton budget chief Alice Rivlin included it in her fiscal reform plan for the Bipartisan Policy Center. (Even some White House economists thought there was merit in Ryan’s plan, my sources say, though they believed it slowed the growth in Medicare spending by an unrealistic amount. But if ObamaCare is unable to reduce costs and preserve quality, a premium support system is a possible Plan B.) And as Avik Roy of Forbes notes (in a great piece), “Again, it’s not clear if Democratic supporters of reform are these think-tank types, or whether they include actual members of Congress.” Still, given the need to transform the U.S. social safety net into a rational, market-based system, any support from the left is a hopeful sign.