Economics

Why Democrats need to apologize to Paul Ryan over ‘Mediscare’

Photo by Gage Skidmore

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.

10 thoughts on “Why Democrats need to apologize to Paul Ryan over ‘Mediscare’

  1. I hate that everyone always thinks there needs to be an apology about things. People like Pelosi, it could be said, now have egg on their face, but an apology? I’m so sick of hearing about apologies. At the very least it would be nice to hear one of these knuckleheads on the left admit that they were wrong or jumped to conclusions early, but we know that will never happen.

  2. I think the NYT is just referring to Alice Rivlin (and potentially the one or two other Democrats who have long supported premium support). They aren’t talking about anonymous sources; they are talking about people who testified in front of the Supercommittee (like Alice Rivlin). I’m pretty sure that all Democratic politicians and the vast majority of think tank types are solidly opposed to a scheme that changes Medicare to be anything other than a one-payer (government) system.

    • Seeing (pun intended) your Kevin Drum and raising you an Alex Tabarrok on the free market dynamics Ryan’s policy will engender:

      Seeing is believing (in the free market)

      Everywhere we look it seems that health care is more expensive: prescription drug prices are increasing, costs to visit the doctor are up, the price of health insurance is rising. But look closer, even closer, closer still. Don’t see it yet? Perhaps you should have your eyes corrected at a Lasik vision center.

      Laser eye surgery has the highest patient satisfaction ratings of any surgery, it has been performed more than 3 million times in the past decade, it is new, it is high-tech, it has gotten better over time and… laser eye surgery has fallen in price. In 1998 the average price of laser eye surgery was about $2200 per eye. Today the average price is $1350, that’s a decline of 38 percent in nominal terms and slightly more than that after taking into account inflation.

      Why the price decline in this market and not others? Could it have something to do with the fact that laser eye surgery is not covered by insurance, not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, and not heavily regulated? Laser eye surgery is one of the few health procedures sold in a free market with price advertising, competition and consumer driven purchases. I’m seeing things more clearly already.

  3. What in Hell is wrong with these people? It is obvious that we as a nation cannot afford the Medicare/Medicaid programs. We simply cannot provide everything to everyone. How about some common sense, anybody?

  4. Leftists love to scold the rest of us on the topic of “sustainability”, yet not a single one of their pet economic projects can be sustained, for they all are one for or another of ‘living at the expense of others.’ When those ‘others’ become exhausted or debilitated such as what we are all going through right now, we resort to borrowing money from foreigners, and then in order to have sustainable interest payments we deliberately inflate (debase) our own money! Thus, the idea that we could live at the expense from others is really shown to be “sustainable” only if we can become thieves.

    Happily, in many cases, the victim is able to decline our demands, but sadly, government then must find someone to coerce and compel in order to keep this “sustainable” scheme going. So, it turns to coercing and compelling its own citizens, and it turns citizenship into a form of indentured tax servitude.

    All this would be moot if we would return to a system that protects and respects private property and requires everyone to pay their own way. Then the only debate must at who is indigent and thus qualified to receive help and how will that help be provided. In each of the last several years, American taxpayers have donated about $300 billion to “charity”, at least as the tax code and the IRS define it. So, there is plenty of money that could be donated to those in true need, if only the right incentives and marketing were done. We could allow charities to compete for donations and for people to help. But no, we prefer using government agents to coerce the money into the coffers of a bureaucracy, so we can give to anyone the bureaucracy defines as being qualified. As a result, in the US, anyone who is “poor” qualifies for a free cell phone, and over 75% live in homes with air conditioning. Our poor are far more wealthy in the factors of everyday comforts than 99% of people in other areas the world. As a result, we have family lines in the US who may have more generations on welfare than their ancestors spent in slavery. And we have demographic groups where more than 70% of children are born to an unmarried mother, who almost always is having most or all of her income either directly or indirectly coming at the expense of others. What are we doing to ourselves?

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